City Strip-search Civil Trial Starts

Two Sisters Filed Suit After 2008 Incident In Bar

February 05, 2010|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

During opening statements in a civil trial Thursday, attorneys for two sisters said Baltimore police fabricated information to justify unconstitutional strip searches performed on the women in the back of a Brooklyn bar.

But lawyers for the two officers being sued said the searches - which they say turned up cocaine, marijuana and painkillers - were appropriate and the result of a sergeant's witnessing drug dealing. They say the lawsuit is motivated by money.

It's an expected back-and-forth between sides. But what makes this more than a he-said/she-said case is the history of the sergeant under scrutiny - the city state's attorney's office labeled him untrustworthy in 2008 and threw out all cases in which his testimony was key - as well as the recent attention to the topic of strip searches by police.

A bill restricting strip searches is under consideration in the Maryland Senate, and city officials agreed in December to pay $200,000 to settle another lawsuit filed against Baltimore police. Several other cases with similar claims are making their way through Maryland's federal courts.

Sgt. Allen Adkins and another detective from the Southern District, Sean Dallessandro, are the focus of this lawsuit, filed by sisters Shaketa and Jennell Causey. Adkins was the target of a Baltimore state's attorney's office investigation that led Patricia C. Jessamy to conclude that his "credibility and integrity" were "irrevocably compromised."

She placed him on the "do not call" list of officers who can't testify in court, though no criminal charges were filed against him. Adkins, who has been on the force for nearly a quarter-century, was accused of lying to create a basis for certain searches, including the Causeys'. The drug case against the plaintiffs was dropped because prosecutors say security video contradicts Adkins' account. He said he saw the women selling drugs out of the back of the bar, but the video allegedly shows that they were not.

Since then, the women have filed a civil suit based on the incident, with the video among the evidence to be shown in court.

According to Shaketa Causey's testimony Thursday, she went to the bar about 9 p.m. Jan. 24, 2008, ordered a Corona and a shot of Remy Martin 1738 and put between $10 and $15 in the jukebox. Her sister came in afterward with a man and ordered two beers.

Soon afterward, "everything just started going crazy," said Shaketa Causey, 24. She and Adkins have a history of run-ins; he had arrested her before for drugs and once shackled her to a fence, she said out of the jurors' earshot. She also accuses him of planting Percocet pills near her that night to justify the arrests.

According to her testimony, Adkins cuffed her that night, sat her down, then did the same to her sister and called for a female officer. When the officer arrived, she took Shaketa Causey back to the women's restroom and searched her down to bare skin while Adkins watched, she said.

"He's a man, he's not supposed to stand there and look at my body," Shaketa Causey testified. Afterward, she was led back to the bar, and then Jennell Causey, 28, was searched. From where she sat, Shaketa Causey said, it sounded horrible.

"I just heard my sister scream, like 'Help, help, I can't breathe,' " she said. And when her sister emerged, her lip was split. She would later have bruises on her upper and lower body. "It looked like she was in there fighting a wild animal," she said.

Jennell Causey's attorney, Christie P. Needleman, said the female officer announced she might have found something when searching her client, and that caused three male officers to rush the room and body-slam her. One inserted ungloved fingers into her vagina, retrieving baggies of cocaine and marijuana, Needleman said.

"There are proper ways to" strip-search, Needleman said. "This isn't the proper way."

Police attorney Joseph Spicer said the evidence in the four- to five-day trial will show otherwise.

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