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Strip Search Filmed By Media Rendered Search Unreasonable

Jack Ryan

A search conducted by members of the Indianapolis Police Department was found to be unreasonable and unprofessional based upon the presence and filming by a camerawoman. In Thompson v. State, an Indiana Appellate Court examined a strip search which occurred during an undercover operation. The operation, being conducted by a policewoman, was being filmed by a television camerawoman who was filming for a show on woman in law enforcement. The operation involved the female officer, posing as a prostitute and crack addict, calling drug dealers and having them bring drugs for purchase to a motel room. During this operation, Thompson, a drug dealer, was called. He reported that he would come to the motel with drugs. Officers waited at the motel and when Thompson arrived, he was taken into custody. A male officer took Thompson to a bathroom to strip search him. The female officer told the camerawoman that she would not want to film the search, however, when the female officer left to retrieve rubber gloves for the male officer, the camerawoman began filming. She filmed Thompson’s exposed buttocks and zoomed in on the suspected drugs. The court was able to view the film when considering Thompson’s claim that the filming rendered the search unreasonable.

The court concluded that the decision to strip search Thompson was reasonable. The court then concluded that although it was reasonable to strip search Thompson, the search was conducted in an unreasonable manner since officers allowed the presence and the filming by the camerawoman. The court asserted: “Where should the media line be drawn? We think the line should be drawn here. Otherwise, the next case might well involve a civilian filming or photographing a strip search incident to arrest where the contraband is found and removed from an anal or vaginal cavity. Where, as here, the search occurs in a private place and the police are in complete control of the circumstances surrounding the search, we can find no justification for law enforcement to allow a civilian to film or photograph the strip search of a suspect naked below the waist. We conclude that, under these circumstances, the strip search was not only unprofessional but was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. We will not sanction such conduct, which demeans the suspect, who is presumed innocent until a trier of fact finds otherwise, and degrades the entire legal process.” As a result, the evidence against Thompson was excluded. It should be noted, the court also refused to extend the “Good Faith” exception to this search.

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