Justices: Police search of items inside bra went too far

June 6, 2018

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Supreme Court says a female officer went too far during a pat-down search when she removed cash and drug paraphernalia from the bra of a woman who has an extensive criminal history and is known to conceal contraband.

The ruling issued Tuesday supported Jessica Broom, who appealed to the high court after a judge refused to suppress evidence from the March 2017 search in Bismarck. The justices say the officer’s actions violated both the Fourth Amendment regarding unreasonable searches and seizures and state law on the same issue. They threw out guilty pleas by Broom on two drug charges.

The incident happened after officers stopped a vehicle that was reported stolen and recognized Broom from previous drug arrests. Police say Broom, who was a passanger, acted “jumpy and jittery” and did not follow their commands while inside the car. She was eventually taken out of the car and handcuffed.

Officer Amanda Gallagher, who arrived at the scene after the traffic stop, conducted the pat-down and said she felt a “large, soft bulge” inside Broom’s bra that Broom said was a wad of money. While retrieving the cash, Gallagher discovered a baggie filled with other baggies, a small glass vial and a rolled-up $10 bill. Broom was arrested.

South Central District Judge Sonna Anders later denied Broom’s claim that the search was unconstitutional, saying Broom’s anxiety, criminal history and ability to hide items “on and in her body” gave Gallagher “reasonable grounds” to search for weapons and check inside her bra.

Broom’s attorney, Kiara Kraus-Parr, argued in front of the Supreme Court that her client may have a history of concealing contraband, but not weapons. Gallagher further testified that she didn’t feel anything similar to a gun, knife or other weapon during the pat-down, the attorney noted.

Justices say Gallagher did not have a “reasonable suspicion” that Broom was armed and dangerous and Anders should have ruled in favor of Broom’s motion to suppress evidence.

“The district court relied on the uncertainty of what Broom was concealing in her bra and her known criminal history to justify the inner garment search,” the ruling said. “This is not the standard.”

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