A woman is suing four Pennsylvania State Police officers over a “degrading road-side strip search” after being pulled over for allegedly driving five mph over the posted speed limit, according to the lawsuit.
The woman’s lawyer Alec Wright told McClatchy News the incident “was a disgusting overreach of the power that we entrust in police officers. These troopers should be ashamed, disciplined and apologize.”
State police told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette they do not comment on pending litigation. McClatchy News reached out to state police for comment as well.
Wright says the officers in question pulled over and detained the woman without a warrant or probable cause, and then violated her.
This happened on June 27, 2021, when Washington County resident Holly Elish was driving on Interstate 70 on her way home from work when she noticed a Pennsylvania State Police car following her, according to the lawsuit filed Nov. 4.
Elish signaled that she was pulling over, but when the officer did not turn on his siren or lights, she turned off her signals and continued driving. It was then when the officer turned on the siren and pulled Elish over, the lawsuit says.
After going over her documentation, Rousseau asked for consent to search Elish’s car. Elish told the officer he did not have her consent, per the lawsuit.
Another officer then arrived on the scene. The second officer asked to search her vehicle again, and told Elish that “more troopers were on their way, including a female trooper,” according to the lawsuit.
Since Elish was scared, she permitted the officers to search her car, the suit says. Nothing illegal was found.
Two additional officers — one male and one female —arrived on scene. The female officer told Elish she was going to perform a roadside strip search, meaning Elish’s clothes would be removed, and her body would be searched, the lawsuit detailed.
The female officer inspected Elish’s breasts, and asked her to remove her pants and “squat” for a cavity search, the lawsuit said. The officer allegedly squatted next to Elish to search her.
Right before searching the cavity area, the lawsuit said the female officer asked something like: “Do you know why they want me to do this?”
Elish said no, and that she was just on her way to pick up her child, according to the lawsuit.
The female officer then refused to continue with the cavity search and told Elish she could leave, the suit says.
The initial officer cited Elish for driving 60 mph in a 55 mph zone. Elish contested the citation, and won after the officer did not show up for the hearing, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit is seeking compensation and punitive damages.
“Strip searches are one of the most degrading and humiliating acts taken by police officers against us, as citizens,” Wright, Elish’s lawyer, told McClatchy News. “They may only occur under the rarest of circumstances when it is absolutely necessary to stop a serious crime. None of those circumstances were present here.”