In past blog posts we've discussed the importance of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against illegal search and seizure. In drug crime investigations this amendment is particularly significant because it says that officers can't conduct a search of a person's body or property without probable cause. If law enforcement officers violate the Fourth Amendment, they may face prosecution themselves.
That's what's currently happening to four Milwaukee police officers who have been accused of using illegal search tactics on people suspected of drug crimes. All four officers have been charged with misconduct in public office. Three of the officers were also charged with conducting an illegal strip search and two are charged with conducting an illegal body cavity search. One of the officers faces a total of 25 counts of these offenses, as well as sexual assault.
According to prosecutors, the officers conducted the illegal searches from February 2010 to February 2012. A criminal complaint contains allegations from 10 men who said the officers reached down the suspects' pants and probed them in search of drugs. Many of the illegal searches occurred in police stations before the suspects were allowed to contact an attorney. Others happened on the street; one of the victims said he had just stepped outside a relative's house when officers approached him, put him in handcuffs and performed a body cavity search. The victim said that when he tried to pull away, one of the officers put him in a chokehold while another pressed a gun to his head.
When police exercise misconduct, it can be difficult for a victim of this misconduct to know exactly how to react. Suspects may have been told they don't have any rights once they've been accused of a crime, but that simply isn't true, even if the suspect is guilty of said crime. Police still have a responsibility to inform suspects of their rights and to comply with them. Those who don't risk the types of charges the officers in this case now face.
Regardless of what an officer might tell you on the street or in an interrogation room, if you've been accused of a crime, you have the right to speak to an attorney. Particularly in the case of drug crimes, you should strongly consider exercising that right before allowing police to question or search you.
Source: Wisconsin State Journal, "Four Milwaukee police officers charged for alleged illegal strip searches, sexual assaults," Todd Richmond, Carrie Antlfinger and Jeff Baenen, Oct. 9, 2012
· Our firm handles drug crimes and a wide range of other criminal defense issues. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Milwaukee drug crimes page.