By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
The attorney for a Black woman who says she felt raped after Harris County Texas Sheriff Deputies publicly strip searched her at a Texaco gas station parking lot was planning to file a federal civil lawsuit at press time.
Attorney Sam Cammack III vowed to “make them pay,” as he and Charnesia Corley detailed the inhumane treatment she said she suffered at the hands of one male and two female deputies on June 21.
“They completely stripped this 21-year-old lady naked and held her face down on the ground with her hands hog tied behind her really with handcuffs and had her feet up behind her ears, causing her a tremendous amount of pain. And they spread her legs open and stuffed their fingers inside of her and had her in that position for 11 minutes,” Atty. Cammack told The Final Call. He said his client intends to sue the Sheriff’s Department for $20-30 million.
It all started when a White, male officer pulled Ms. Corley over for running a stop sign. The officer reportedly smelled marijuana, handcuffed Ms. Corley and placed her in the back of a patrol unit. She was arrested on two misdemeanor charges of possession of .02 ounces of marijuana, resisting arrest, and eventually taken to jail, but not before her nightmare began.
Atty. Cammack said the prosecutor contacted him and said the charges against Ms. Corley were dismissed and they had a video that corroborated everything Ms. Corley told him. Atty. Cammack admitted that until he viewed the video with his own eyes, he couldn’t believe what his client was telling him about her ordeal.
‘Someone, please help me’
“It was unbelievable! It was unconscionable that someone, one of those officers didn’t say ‘hey wait a minute! What in the hell are you doing? You can’t do this,’” said Atty. Cammack. The worst part about it is that a Black female officer was involved, though he feels it’s more a matter of police misconduct rather than race, he added. He was unsure if he’d release the video yet because of public outrage and ramifications.
Ms. Corley has no prior criminal history and said she was going to the store to get some medicine for her sick grandmother when she was stopped, said Atty. Cammack.
After searching Ms. Conley’s car for more than an hour and not finding anything, the White male deputy went back to his unit, called another unit with a Black female officer who eventually searched Ms. Corley and likewise found nothing, Atty. Cammack further detailed. Things quickly escalated.
“She (Black female officer) didn’t like the fact that Ms. Corley rejected her advances of trying to put her fingers in her crotch area while she had her pinned up against a unit, and so she threw her face down on the concrete while her hands are cuffed to the back of her hair and pulled her pants off while she was laying on the parking lot of the Texaco completely naked, face down with her legs in a super high position,” Atty. Cammack continued.
Another officer came, reportedly a White female, they spread her legs apart, and committed the act, he said. “And then you can see the male officer on the video, there’s an in-car mic and so you can hear Ms. Corley screaming from the ground, because you see the officer turn his mic off so we can’t hear it, but we can see her struggling on the ground without her pants on.”
Ms. Corley spoke softly but passionately to The Final Call about what she experienced that night. She said she kept thinking, “Someone, please, help me. Someone, please make them stop. Stop what you’re doing to me! Why are you doing this to me?” All kinds of thoughts were going through her head, she continued.
“I was crying. I was upset. Mentally, it messes with my mind and my head. It kicked me in a state to where I’ve concluded I don’t want to be around anyone. I don’t want to be seen, because it makes me feel, it makes me feel like I was helpless in the situation. I couldn’t do anything to help myself.”
Ms. Corley said she protested profusely and even told the officers their actions were wrong, but to no avail. “At one point I told the first female officer on the scene, ‘This isn’t right. I feel embarrassed,’ and she told me, ‘You should be embarrassed.’”
“That statement coming from her, someone who’s supposed to uphold the law and protect the citizens, it hurt me. It broke me down even more,” she said.
The deputy also allegedly told Ms. Corley that if she didn’t open her legs, she’d break them, according to Atty. Cammack. Ms. Corley has not been offered any psychological or trauma services by the Sheriff’s Department.
“It’s horrific! I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years of practice. It’s one of the most volatile videos I’ve ever witnessed in my life being done to a human being,” said Atty. Cammack.
Police out of control?
Although she is in California, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said she was deeply troubled to hear Ms. Corley’s story. As a member of the California State Assembly in 1984, she advanced legislation to prohibit police strip searches for nonviolent offenses.
She said it appears the police community in America is out of control. “It seems the more we protest, the worse it gets. We are going to have to use everything in our power to try and stop this. It is unacceptable. We cannot act out of fear. We must confront it legislatively. We must organize and raise our voices, and we must do everything that we can to tell the police community of this country that we refuse to live in a police state and be treated the way that we’re being treated,” said Congresswoman Waters.
What’s even more disturbing is that the police department responded by saying the invasive cavity search was proper protocol, she continued.
“As I said then, people accused of traffic violations or other nonviolent offenses should not be robbed of their dignity. Unfortunately, not all states have adopted the types of laws and standards we championed in California.”
She noted a Supreme Court decision (Florence v. Burlington County) seemed to be pretty liberal in allowing states to make these decisions to do strip-searching, but said she’s never heard of one occurring for a suspected traffic violation that’s done publicly on a woman.
“Like I said to my staff, before I would allow a police officer or anybody to strip me of my clothing and violate me by doing a cavity search on me out here in the public, they’d have to kill me.”
“I was skeptical because I thought surely something like this couldn’t happen in America. This is a civilized country. I’ve never heard anything like this in the thousands of criminal cases. I’ve never heard of a police officer stripping a young lady down bare naked and sticking their fingers inside of them on the side of the road,” said Atty. Cammack.
He asserted there’s something systemically wrong with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department if they don’t pursue sexual assault charges against all three officers, including the arresting officer that stood there with a flashlight looking down at Ms. Corley’s naked body as the female officers stuck their fingers inside of her.
He said his involvement never started out to be a civil issue where anyone would be sued for money, but the video angered him so bad and corroborated his client’s story.
Ms. Corley sent a message to the deputies. “What they did to me is wrong beyond measures. At the end of the day, they have to know that their daughter could grow up into this same world and how would they feel if an officer of the law did this to them. How would they feel if a male officer stood there and watched their naked child on the ground while two female officers sexually assaulted them,” she said.
“I just want women to know that it’s okay to speak up. It’s okay to be scared and still tell your story because it might touch someone. It’s going to help someone,” she told The Final Call.
The Sheriff’s Department has since opened an official internal affairs investigation, but apparently said Atty. Cammack, officials came out publicly before they reviewed the videotape and said the officers followed all protocol and procedures and policies set forth by the Sheriff’s Department.
The Final Call’s request for an interview with a Harris County Sheriff’s spokesperson was not returned at press time. The incident happened just weeks before a Texas state law prohibiting anal or vaginal body cavity searches during a traffic stop without a search warrant goes into effect on September 1. “It goes to the state of our policing and each day on the news, whether it’s a Black man, a White man, whatever color they may be, if they run from the police, they get shot or they get beat down. If they pull over for the police, they get shot or they get beat down or they get raped, as in this case,” said Atty. Cammack.
There’s another case in Harris County where a deputy came to a woman’s home on an in-service call then reportedly returned latter and is accused of raping her, said Atty. Cammack. Describing himself as “pro law enforcement” it’s incidents like what his client endured that raises serious questions, he continued.
“So how do they expect us to pull over for these people when they get behind us? Now, when you see a police in your rear view mirror, how scared are you going to be? How nervous? How much is your heart going to be beating and say how is this going to turn out? I might be driving five miles over the speed limit. Well, what’s this going to end up being? What’s going to happen, so why should we even have to pull over for them?” he asked.
If firearms should be taken away from anyone in society, start with police, he said.
Charnesia Corley pulled over for officers, trusting that they would do their job and write her a traffic ticket, but they ended up sexually assaulting her, Atty. Cammick charged.
“How would that make you feel if that was your 20-year-old child? You’d be outraged,” he said.