We have been discussing how police are using pretext stops to search for drugs in many jurisdictions. Pamela Held, 27, of Deer Park, Long Island, has an added gripe against a NYPD officer from Queens. She says that she was pulled for a missing sticker and police used that excuse to search her car for drugs. They did not find anything, but they seized her cellphone, searched it, and she claims that NYPD Officer Sean Christian found revealing images of herself and sent them to himself. She is now preparing to sue the city.
Some states have ruled that a warrant is needed to search cellphones. However, others like California, have allowed such searches upon arrest. Of course, Held was not arrested and the stop was clearly a pretextual stop. Many civil libertarians condemned the Supreme Court in its decision in Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996), where it refused to consider whether a stop was clearly based on a pretext in judging the constitutionality of the later search.
Christian, 41, is under an Internal Affairs investigation stemming from Held’s complaint.
He was one of five officers in a van who stopped Held one night because of the absence of an inspection sticker. Why would a team of five officers be patrolling for sticker violations? They weren’t. This has become common since the ruling in Whren after the Supreme Court left all citizens subject to these stops and searches as part of an increasing array of expanded and potentially arbitrary police powers.
When the officers found prescription drugs, they dragged Held and her friend into the stationhouse. They demanded details on their movements that night and Held offered to show text messages showing their movements. Police took the phone while she was processed on misdemeanor drug charges.
Three hours later, she was given an appearance ticket and back her phone. She says that Christian followed her and was telling her how beautiful she is. When she later checked her phone, she found a number with all of her pictures attached. Some 20 nude pictures and five revealing pictures are forwarded. Christian denied forwarding the pictures and said that the number was actually his brother. It is unclear why that improves the situation dramatically since it is indeed his brother. He also denies ever meeting her. However, a secretly recorded call Internal Affairs detectives claim that Christian seemed quite familiar with Held and flirted with Held for 50 minutes.
By the way, the charges against Held and her friend appear headed to a dismissal. Notably, while the department is looking at the photo transfer, it is not of course looking at the pretextual stop, questionable arrest, or the search of the phone.
Source: NY Daily News