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Oct 9, 2008 1:14 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Appeals court favors woman suing Southampton Village Police

Oct 9, 2008 1:14 PM

A Southampton woman who is suing the Southampton Village Police over a 2003 strip-search will get her day in court after a federal court ruled last week that the case should be heard by a jury.

The U.S. Court of Appeals concluded on October 8 that there is evidence that Stacey Hartline’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when she was strip-searched “in absence of reasonable suspicion” after she was arrested by Village Police on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. The court’s decision puts Ms. Hartline’s $1 million federal lawsuit back on track after a lower court’s decision in the village’s favor.

Ms. Hartline, now 27, filed the civil lawsuit in April 2003, charging that her rights were violated in January that year when officers strip-searched her and performed a visual body cavity search after she was found to be in possession of a small, unusable amount of marijuana. In her suit, Ms. Hartline said she suffered “extreme embarrassment, distress, physical and psychological pain and discomfort” as a result of the searches.

The federal judges sent the case back to the lower court that originally made a summary judgment in 2006 in favor of the village. Senior District Judge Denis Hurley ruled that the strip-search did not violate Ms. Hartline’s constitutional rights and directed the court clerk to close the case.

The lawsuit names Southampton Village, the police department and individual police officers Anthony Gallo, Marla Donovan, Sergeant Darren Gagnon and then-Chief Jim Sherry.

On Thursday, Ms. Hartline said she was thrilled with the latest decision. She said she was happy that police might be held accountable for their actions and added that she hoped what happened to her will not happen to anyone else.

Ms. Hartline struggled to maintain composure as she recalled the incident, calling it traumatic, but she said she plans on seeing the case through to its conclusion.

“There’s no way I would let it go,” she said.

According to the appeals court’s account of the incident, Ms. Hartline, 21 years old at the time, was running errands in Southampton Village for her then-employer, Best Modular Homes, on January 6, 2003, when Officer Gallo stopped her because her pickup truck was missing a rear license plate.

Because the driver’s side window was broken and could not be rolled down, Ms. Hartline opened her door to talk with the officer. That’s when Officer Gallo said he saw a marijuana stem on the floor of the truck and told Ms. Hartline she would not be arrested if she showed him all the marijuana in the truck, according to court documents. Ms. Hartline said there might have been some tiny amounts of marijuana in the truck, and she was handcuffed behind the truck while Officer Gallo searched it.

The court said after he found the butt of a marijuana cigarette, a container with seeds in it and a pipe, Officer Gallo took Ms. Hartline to the police station on misdemeanor marijuana possession charges and had her wait for a female police officer to arrive and search her.

“Ultimately, if the facts of this case amount to reasonable suspicion, then strip-searches will become commonplace,” the circuit judges wrote in their 15-page decision rendered on October 8. “Given the unique, intrusive nature of strip-searches, as well as the multitude of less investigative techniques available to officers confronted by misdemeanor offenders, that result would be unacceptable in any society that takes privacy and bodily integrity seriously.”

Officer Gallo never asked Ms. Hartline if she had marijuana or other contraband on her body, the court said.

“Indeed, it is hard to imagine how the facts of this case could have led a reasonable officer in Officer Gallo’s position to suspect that Hartline was illicitly concealing drugs on her person,” the judges wrote. “Officer Gallo found no usable narcotics in Hartline’s vehicle, nor did he see Hartline take any suspicious actions which might have suggested she was hiding something as he approached her vehicle. Officer Gallo did not notice anything about Hartline’s physical appearance that suggested she was secreting drugs on her person, nor did he engage in a less invasive pat down search that suggested the presence of contraband. Hartline answered every question that Officer Gallo asked her about drugs truthfully, yet Gallo did not even ask Hartline if she had any drugs on her person. Furthermore, Hartline had been arrested for nothing more serious than a B-misdemeanor.”

The misdemeanor marijuana charges against Ms. Hartline were dismissed in 2003.

The court account said when Officer Donovan arrived to conduct the search, she took Ms. Hartline to a holding cell for females and had her take off her lower garments and bend over for a visual search. She was then told to remove her upper garments and lift her bra. The court account also said Ms. Hartline was “crying hysterically” during the search.

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This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By John Q (2), Smalltown on Oct 10, 08 11:48 AM
No reasonable suspicion that she had drugs? She was found with the stem, seeds, butt, and pipe! The only thing missing was the rolling papers!!!

She committed a crime, and she should have to strip down and bend over just like every other criminal who gets caught.
By John Q (2), Smalltown on Oct 10, 08 11:52 AM
John Q. - Making sure you saw the part where it suggests only females are strip searched? Or the part where the strips search was allegedly broadcasted throughout the police station? It's fascinating that since 2003 not one single person has made additional claims of unconstitutional strip searches. Part of the problem here is that there doesn't appear to be any other “criminals” who got “stripped down and bent over”. So if this was your daughter, wife, girlfriend or mother who apparently got ...more
By NorthSea (10), Southampton on Oct 10, 08 1:26 PM
John,
The marijuana was missing too. I think the rolling papers would’ve been useless.
By NorthSea (10), Southampton on Oct 10, 08 1:28 PM
John Q,
Did you used to work for the Village Police?? You think just like Gallo and the rest of them. Strip searches are not done for an, at best, violation for a wooden stem and residue. The Village cannot even produce a female prisioner who has been stripped searched for UPM. That's because it was selective enforcement and a violation of that young lady's rights. They should pay through the nose so no one else has to go through that ordeal.
...more
By warren (3), SOUTHAMPTON on Oct 10, 08 2:25 PM
Conducting strip searches for marihuana possession is both an outdated practice and a clear sign of misconduct and incompetence on the part of the people doing the strip searches. That would be recently rehired Southampton Village Seasonal Police Officer Marla Donovan. This story has this minor inaccuracy.

In New York State the Criminal Procedure Law governs how the police should act in these circumstances; section 150.75 to be specific. Ms. Hartline’s CAR and not Ms. Hartline was in ...more
By RonDo (33), Southampton on Oct 11, 08 3:24 PM
I have a similar story that happened to me with the Southampton police. I was stopped for quote unquote "swerving" on the road. What REALLY happened was that it was dark and I couldn't see my turn. I was pulled over under suspicion of drunk driving. They made me strip down too in front of a female officer. There was no cavity search. But strange they made me take off my clothes just because I swerved (slightly!) on the road. I will be getting in touch with this girl's lawyer.
By Monica888 (1), Manhattan on Oct 11, 08 5:53 PM
The problems with the Southampton Village Police Department were due to TONE AT THE TOP! The Police Chief, Jimmie Sherry was always a jerk. Remember when he shot himself in the foot. The Village Police are a joke.
By Walt (292), Southampton on Oct 11, 08 9:50 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By RonDo (33), Southampton on Oct 12, 08 10:23 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By highway (2), southampton on Oct 13, 08 4:14 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By RonDo (33), Southampton on Oct 13, 08 6:15 PM
RonDo,

Ms. Hartline was charged with criminal possession of marijuana in the fifth degree:

Sec. 221.10 Criminal possession of marihuana in the fifth degree.
A person is guilty of criminal possession of marihuana in the fifth
degree when he knowingly and unlawfully possesses:
1. marihuana in a public place, as defined in section 240.00 of this
chapter, and such marihuana is burning or open to public view; or
2. one or more preparations, compounds, ...more
By BOReilly (135), Hampton Bays on Oct 14, 08 9:41 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By BOReilly (135), Hampton Bays on Oct 14, 08 9:41 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By RonDo (33), Southampton on Oct 14, 08 10:17 AM
BOReilly,

If you look at the accusatory instruments filed with court you will see that sub section 1 was foolishly applied to the Hartline arrest. “1. marihuana in a public place, as defined in section 240.00 of this chapter, and such marihuana is burning or open to public view;” and not the aggregate weight.

This means the old “warm to the touch” scam to bump up a “violation” marihuana possession to a Class- B misdemeanor was employed here. The public might be mislead by your ...more
By RonDo (33), Southampton on Oct 14, 08 10:29 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By RonDo (33), Southampton on Oct 14, 08 10:31 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By UnderDog, Water Mill on Oct 14, 08 10:37 AM
Northsea - I saw the part where she _alleges_ that only females were strip-searched. A simple check of the policy and jail records would show one way or the other. But I do agree that if the policy only applies to women, the cops should pay. And, having the seeds is illegal, just like growing the plant is. She's a criminal, and she got the criminal treatment.

RonDo - I think the argument that her car had the marijuana is completely ridiculous. What are they gonna do, arrest the car??? It's ...more
By John Q (2), Smalltown on Oct 15, 08 10:34 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By squeaky (291), hampton bays on Oct 16, 08 9:40 AM
John Q.,
Thank you for reading my comments and offering your perspective. The legal argument that the car and not the person is in possession of marihuana is to encourage the reader. The fact that you can't arrest a car and only a person is the legal basis NOT to arrest under the circumstances. A true law enforcement professional know when to walk away from a no arrest situation.

You will read more on this topic for sure. Police need probable cause to get a search warrant for a ...more
By RonDo (33), Southampton on Oct 16, 08 4:54 PM
For an unbridled version see:
www.southamptonpolice.blogspot.com
By RonDo (33), Southampton on Oct 16, 08 9:39 PM
Am not entirely familiar with this story - am just skimming the story - except for the fact that it seems excessive to search the woman - unless the drugs evident in the car is enough to constitute probable cause. My point here is to note that a man who strangled and (in some kind of irreversable rage) murdered someone in full view of many witnesses at the Publick House in Southampton this past summer was neither searched for drugs nor tested for the amount of alchohol or potential drugs he may ...more
By Vikki K (490), Southampton on Oct 23, 08 12:42 PM
To clarify this situation and offer some truths to the community: The juror above said they weren’t informed on ANY marijuana laws which clearly states under 28 grams of marijuana for a first time offender is a civil citation. Similar to a speeding ticket, a violation under the law. There is only one way to make this amount of marijuana a higher charge, a misdemeanor is any amount under 28 grams in public where marijuana is burning or open to public view.

The juror above also clearly stated. ...more
By Justice (4), Southampton on Jun 25, 09 5:45 PM