MAN SAYS HE WAS SUBJECTED TO A STRIP SEARCH IN PUBLIC
SARASOTA - A Sarasota man who said he was strip-searched outside an apartment complex in front of at least a dozen people, including children, has filed a complaint against the Sarasota Police Department sergeant who conducted the search.
Barry Mitchell said he was humiliated last week when Sgt. Joseph Stiff, wearing a latex glove, pulled back Mitchell's boxer shorts and ran his hand along Mitchell's buttocks, touching his anus.
"It was the most embarrassing thing in my life," Mitchell, 21, said. He filed the complaint Monday.
Florida law prohibits strip searches in public. Such searches are supposed to occur in private and no one other than law enforcement officers is allowed to be present. In most cases, experts say, police take drug suspects to jail or an interrogation room to conduct the search.
Public strip searches also violate police policy, which says they should not be conducted outside detention or holding facilities except under "extraordinary circumstances."
"There's no way you should be doing this on the side of the road," said Charlie Britt, a Bradenton attorney and former narcotics detective.
A police spokesman, Capt. Stan Duncan, said the department will not comment on Mitchell's complaint because it is part of an ongoing internal investigation.
The incident occurred Friday afternoon as Sarasota officers were looking for drug dealers on 20th Street in Newtown. In his official report, officer Kenneth Goebel said he saw two men passing drugs to cars, so he and other officers swooped in to make an arrest.
Mitchell is no stranger to police. He has been arrested a half-dozen times since 2005, mostly for loitering or trespassing. He was twice charged with possession of cocaine, but the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.
On Friday, Mitchell and another man were stopped and searched.
"I didn't have anything so I wasn't worried about it," Mitchell said Tuesday.
The officers turned out the men's pockets, looked in their waistbands and searched the ground nearby, but did not find any drugs.
For Mitchell, the search went a step further.
Goebel took Mitchell to the side of an apartment building, pulled back his boxer shorts and proclaimed that Mitchell was "clenching" his buttocks, according to a police report and two witnesses.
Mitchell was handcuffed and placed in the back of a squad car. A crowd gathered along a row of apartments. A school bus let children out nearby and more than a dozen people lined up along a fence to watch the police.
Sgt. Stiff soon arrived.
Stiff ordered Mitchell to stand up with his arms out. Stiff then put on a latex glove, peeled back the boxer shorts and ran his hand along Mitchell's behind.
"What are you doing?" Mitchell asked Stiff. "You can't do this out here, with all these people watching."
Police did not find any cocaine that day and no one was arrested.
In a police report, Goebel said that Mitchell was never exposed to the public. But Mitchell and at least two witnesses say that Mitchell was facing a group of people in front of the apartment complex and more than a dozen people saw Stiff reach inside his underwear.
"I couldn't even believe it," said Linda Lee, who lives in the neighborhood. "I saw this officer going up inside his pants and I was like, 'That's wrong. You can't do that.'"
Said Darius Wilder, another witness: "I didn't think they were allowed to do that."
Following the search, Mitchell and his friend were released.
As Mitchell headed to a friend's house so he could call his mother he passed a group of children.
"They were teasing me," Mitchell said. "All these little kids were like, 'Ooh, we saw your behind. We saw what the police did to you.'"