Being Black in America: $150,000 SC couple settles roadside cavity search case

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — July 25, 2017, A black South Carolina couple that accused police of subjecting them to illegal body searches on the side of the road has settled a lawsuit against four white officers.

Documents filed in federal court late last week show Lakeya Hicks and Elijah Pontoon stipulated to the dismissal of their lawsuit against police officers for the City of Aiken. Court papers didn’t include an amount of the settlement.

But a document obtained by the Aiken Standard indicated the city’s insurer is paying a $150,000 settlement.

The couple’s lawsuit came after several high-profile incidents sparked a nationwide debate about how white officers treat African-Americans. In October 2014, Hicks and Pontoon say they were pulled over and subjected to a humiliating search on the side of a public road. Hicks said her breasts were exposed as she was detained and searched. Pontoon said police searched his anal cavity, and officers found no drugs in their car.

The searches don’t occur on camera, but audio captured by a dash camera has been widely circulated online.

According to the lawsuit, the couple said they were pulled over because the car had a paper license tag, though an officer said during the encounter that he knew Pontoon because he had previous arrests several years earlier. Their car is then searched with dogs trained to sniff out drugs, and the couple is put in police cars before being searched themselves.

According to the suit, Hicks’ breasts were exposed as she was detained on the side of the road and searched by a female officer. During a search of his anal cavity, Pontoon explains that a mass the officer felt was not hidden drugs but was actually a hemorrhoid.

The officer is heard telling Pontoon that because of “your past history,” he summoned a police dog to check the car. When Pontoon — who has prior drug arrests but none in recent years — objected to what he described as harassment, the lawsuit says the officer told him: “You gonna pay for this one boy.”

“I felt very humiliated,” Hicks told The Associated Press in a 2016 interview, discussing the incident and lawsuit. “We don’t want this to happen to anybody else.”

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