Roadside strip search prompts lawsuit
DAYTONA BEACH -- An Orange County man claims in a lawsuit that a Daytona Beach Shores public safety officer made him strip, then searched him in view of tourists making their way around a miniature golf course.
Travis Taylor, 26, says in his suit against the city, Public Safety Department and the officer that his civil rights were violated during the search last year and the officer battered him during the traffic stop on Atlantic Avenue.
The lawsuit, filed Monday, claims he and a friend were profiled -- selected for inspection based on their age and race -- and searched for drugs when they were pulled over for a faulty tail light on July 30, 2004.
Director of Public Safety Stephan Dembinsky on Tuesday deferred comment to the city's attorneys. A call to the city manager was not returned.
According to the lawsuit filed by Orlando attorney Yvonne Nelson on Monday, Officer Manuel Perez, 29, claimed he stopped a car Taylor was riding in at the 2100 block of South Atlantic -- across the street from Congo River Miniature Golf -- because of an inoperable tail light.
Perez, who has worked in Shores since 2002, was involved in another high profile incident two years ago. He shot and killed Charles Jones, a mentally ill man who attacked him with a rock on a beach walkover. An investigation found the shooting was justified.
In the 2004 traffic stop, a tail light of the blue 1995 Chevy Caprice driven by Darryl Moore, 25, of Orange County was cracked at the time, but it was working, according to the lawsuit.
The officer asked the men, who were both black, if they had any drugs; they replied they did not. The officer insisted Taylor "come clean" and said he knew "he had drugs on him," according to the suit.
Perez got permission to search the car and patted down Taylor twice, but did not find any illegal substances. After separating the men, Perez ordered Taylor to drop his pants and underwear on the sidewalk, in full view of customers of the miniature golf business, and allow visual inspection of his genitals, the lawsuit says.
Nothing illegal was found and no citations were issued.
"After several minutes of harassment and illegal detainment," the men were allowed to leave, the lawsuit states.
Police must have reasonable suspicion or consent to conduct a search during a traffic stop, said Mitch Wrenn, an assistant public defender in the high crimes unit of 7th Judicial Circuit in Daytona Beach. "Just because they pull you over doesn't mean they have a right to search you or your car."
Wrenn advises his clients to never submit to a search. But giving consent to a car search doesn't give police the right to perform a strip search, which is generally reserved for people already charged with a crime, he said.
In June, the Florida League of Cities completed an investigation and denied a claim for damages filed by Taylor's attorney.
"Although we regret this unfortunate incident," wrote Sharon White, a claims representative for the city on June 15, "we find no negligence/liability on the part of the City of Daytona Beach Shores for the alleged civil rights violation."
Taylor's attorney said Tuesday she had not determined how much in damages to seek.
In a side note...Daytona Beach Shores is an extremely small community South of Daytona Beach on A1A When you come to town for Bike Week or the beach...You do not want to have any dealings with their department...