LUVERNE — An American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota lawsuit resulted in a $140,000 settlement for a Jackson County woman, along with law enforcement reforms such as updated policies, training in dashcam use and body searches, supervisory review of stops and arrests, a revised complaint process and clearer search definitions.
ACLU-MN filed the suit in May 2020 against Rock County deputies Dallas Hamm and Shelley Douty, as well as Rock County Sheriff Evan Verbrugge and the county, alleging that the county violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with state law.
The lawsuit stems from a November 2018 incident in which Hamm pulled over a driver for a dangling air freshener. According to the defendants in the lawsuit, the vehicle had been at an apartment complex associated with narcotics sales.
According to the ACLU’s complaint, Hamm “searched the driver, then turned to passenger Kelli Jo Torres. Hamm told Torres that his female partner, Shelley Douty, would search her. For more than 30 minutes, the deputies yelled at Torres and tried to perform a vaginal search on the I-90 on-ramp – even though Torres was the passenger.
“Throughout the encounter, the deputies made Torres stand outside the squad car without her coat, outside of the dashcam’s view. It was 9 degrees out,” the complaint states.
According to the complaint, Torres was brought to a hospital where a nurse was instructed to search and remove what turned out to be a pipe from Torres. According to the defendants’ answer to the complaint, Torres removed the pipe herself and the nurse, wearing gloves, secured it.
There was no warrant for the search; deputies claimed none was needed because Torres had consented to the search.
“Rock County deputies used a dangling air freshener as an excuse to stop the vehicle, and had no reason to search passenger Kelli Jo Torres, let alone shamefully conduct a body cavity search on the side of a road,” said Clare Diegel, an attorney representing Torres in the lawsuit.