Officials question Florida bra shaking police search
Published: Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 3:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 3:32 p.m.
LAKELAND — State and local law enforcement officials are investigating the actions of a Lakeland police officer who instructed a woman to shake out her bra for drugs during a traffic stop last month.
State Attorney Jerry Hill took the rare step of writing a complaint letter to the Lakeland Police Department this week, fearing that the practice was widespread among officers.
"This highly questionable search method is not only demeaning," Hill wrote, "but is ineffective and possibly dangerous."
The incident occurred May 21 when Officer Dustin Fetz stopped Zoe Brugger for driving with a broken headlight.
The Ledger of Lakeland (http://bit.ly/13V8j1H) reports Fetz asked the driver and her boyfriend for permission to search the vehicle. When they denied his request, Brugger said Fetz escorted her behind the car, where he asked her to lift her shirt above her stomach, pull her bra away from her chest and shake it out. Unsatisfied with her first attempt, Fetz made her shake her bra a second time.
No drugs were found on the woman, but Fetz persisted in searching the car — even after Brugger withdrew her consent.
When the vehicle search turned up no drugs, Fetz gave Brugger a ticket. The woman told the state attorney's office that the officer told her, "I'm done scaring you, and now you can go home."
Fetz told investigators that the bra-shaking search is a known technique that is used by some Lakeland) officers, but he could not recall ever formally being trained to do this.
Hill said police didn't have reason to suspect Brugger was carrying drugs. In his letter, he said such searches could undermine future cases, citing a DUI arrest in which a woman threatened to sue an officer for sexual harassment after he asked her to shake out her bra. Even a suspect who was legally drunk was able to grasp the impropriety and the demeaning nature of this type of search, Hill wrote.
According to a report by State Attorney Investigator Mike Brown, Fetz's action violated Brugger's constitutional rights, but his conduct did not constitute a criminal offense.
"Looking back on the incident, (Fetz) recognizes he was overzealous," the investigator wrote.
Police Chief Lisa Womack told the Ledger she has reviewed Hill's letter and plans to investigate.
The department placed Fetz on paid leave for four days. He returned to work Tuesday.
Information from: The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.), http://www.theledger.com.