Originally published April 2 2014
Cops show up to breastfeeding woman's home then illegally cavity-search her
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis has refused to dismiss allegations that a pair of Iowa police officers arrested a breastfeeding mother in her home, and then insisted on watching her as she used the bathroom.
According to reports, police officers went to the home of Chelsea Bechman late in the evening of March 29, 2009, after they had stopped her husband, Timothy, for a traffic violation in Cedar Rapids, a city of more than 128,000 and the state's second-largest.
Timothy Bechman had been driving his wife's car when Officer Mitchell Magill found in his vehicle's computer database that there was a "possible" warrant out for Chelsea Bechman for failure to produce proof of automobile insurance from a traffic citation exactly two years earlier, March 29, 2007.
When officers arrived at her home, Mrs. Bechman was holding her 10-month-old child in her arms. She informed the officers, correctly as it turned out, that the warrant had been recalled. According to court documents, the warrant was recalled Sept. 26, 2008, and faxed that same day to the Cedar Rapids Police Department.
Because of the "hit" in the computer, however, the officers insisted on taking her to the police station in order to check on the warrant's status.
"Officer Magill did not have any reason to arrest Bechman other than the unverified 'possible' warrant," states the 8th Circuit's nine-page opinion.
Watched from the hall
According to the court document, Mrs. Bechman informed the two officers that she was menstruating and needed to use the bathroom. In turn, they told her she could not close the door and that one officer had to physically watch her. The court said that she allegedly had little choice but to use the bathroom as Officer Eric Butler watched from her hallway.
In addition, the court documents said, the officers would not allow her to change her shirt, which was stained with breast milk, or even to put on a bra -- unless one officer watched her change her clothing. At that, the document said, Mrs. Bechman refused to change.
Officer Magill then proceeded to handcuff her and take her to jail, where she was subjected to a strip- and body-cavity-search, the document states. Mrs. Bechman said she was finally released the next morning when the police department confirmed that she no longer had an active warrant. Reports are not clear on what Mrs. Bechman did with her child before being transported to jail.
Mrs. Bechman eventually sued the two officers for the warrantless arrest.
In its ruling, the three-judge appeals panel of the 8th Circuit affirmed that the officers are not entitled to qualified immunity from unreasonable seizure claims.
"The officers here concede no valid warrant existed at the time they arrested Bechman," Judge William Riley wrote for the court. "They also concede there was no other probable cause for Bechman's arrest."
'No reasonable police officer could actually believe Bechman's warrantless arrest was lawful'
Lawyers for the officers pointed to several cases where courts have found it reasonable to make an arrest on a recalled warrant. However, in each of those cases, the panel found, officers were mistakenly informed that warrants were outstanding.
"Officers Magill and Butler did not have knowledge of the Bechman warrant's existence," Riley wrote. "The 'existence of the warrant,' or the lack thereof, would not be checked until 'the next morning.'"
The ruling further stated that the officers were clearly trained that computer "hits" on the department's warrant database do not in and of themselves constitute a good reason to make an arrest.
"The district court correctly determined that no reasonable police officer could actually believe Bechman's warrantless arrest was lawful, given the information supplied to the officers and the circumstances surrounding Bechman's arrest," Riley wrote.
The panel did not address whether the "humiliating indignities" Mrs. Bechman allegedly suffered during her arrest were an independent claim of unreasonable seizure.
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