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Victoria Schneider
Outrageous and Unlawful Treatment by San Francisco Police
posted February 1998



On the evening of June 13th, 1996, Ms. Schneider was unlawfully strip searched by San Francisco police officers and sheriff's deputies while being booked at the San Francisco County Jail. Shortly prior to the illegal strip search, Ms. Schneider had been arrested by San Francisco Police Officer Robert Porter for prostitution. Ms. Schneider was not suspected of possessing or concealing illegal drugs, weapons or any other contraband. Moreover, Ms. Schneider at all times was fully cooperative. Despite the fact that Officer Porter had specifically asked Ms. Schneider to verbally verify her female gender, it soon became clear to Ms. Schneider that the booking officer at the jail intended to place her in a holding cell with male detainees. When it became obvious that she was to be placed in the men's cell, Ms. Schneider protested and requested that she be placed in a holding cell with other females. This reasonable request was summarily denied. Ms. Schneider then asked the booking officer to check her rap sheet on the computer (which clearly indicates that she is female), but he refused. Ms. Schneider knew that the Sheriff had reliable information as to her gender because, following an incident in 1993 where she had been placed in a male holding cell and then strip searched when she protested, Ms. Schneider had personally delivered copies of her birth certificate, her passport, and other documents identifying her as a female to the Sheriffs Legal Department at the Hall of Justice.

Despite Ms. Schneider's pleas, the booking deputy told her that if she did not want to be placed in a cell with male detainees, she would have to be strip searched. Fearing for her physical safety, Ms. Schneider submitted to a visual strip search, so that the jail personnel could verify her gender. A female deputy was then summoned, while the City's employees and other detainees in the booking area snickered and laughed at Ms. Schneider.

The female deputy took Ms. Schneider into a room off the hallway leading to the women's side of the Jail and told her to strip. The deputy inspected Ms. Schneider's genitals and made her bend over and cough. Ms. Schneider felt humiliated and cried throughout this process. After the deputy had confirmed that Ms. Schneider is female, she took her back to the booking area where City employees and detainees continued to laugh and snicker at her. Eventually, Ms. Schneider was taken into the day room on the female side of the Jail, where the humiliation continued until her release the following morning.

In fact, Ms. Schneider's gender was easily verifiable. As of June 13, 1996, Ms. Schneider's rap sheet indicated that she had been arrested by the San Francisco Police Department on approximately fourteen occasions; in each case for disorderly conduct/soliciting prostitution and no other offense. Her rap sheet also indicates, prominently, "Sex: F." This information was readily available to the booking deputy and other City employees present at the time Ms. Schneider was booked and strip searched. There is simply no legitimate excuse for the humiliation the City forced her to endure.

Visual strip searches of pre-arraignment detainees constitute a deprivation of their constitutional rights if performed without probable cause or a reasonable suspicion of concealed weapons, narcotics or contraband. Moreover, California state law makes it a misdemeanor for law enforcement personnel to conduct visual strip searches without such suspicion and without prior written authorization from a supervisor. See California Penal Code 94030 and San Francisco Police Department General Order 4.01. However, in Ms. Schneider's case, the officers involved possessed neither the requisite suspicion nor prior approval, written or otherwise.

Nor did the City or the police officers act innocently. The arresting and booking officers snickered and laughed at Ms. Schneider, establishing their intent to humiliate her and cause her pain. If these officers had really questioned Ms. Schneider's gender, a quick check of the computer database readily available to them at the station would have resolved such questions more simply and expeditiously than forcing Ms. Schneider to submit to a humiliating and unnecessary strip search. Finally, both Officer Porter (the arresting officer) and Sergeant Lawson (who reviewed and approved Officer Porter's arrest report and decision to book Ms. Schneider into the San Francisco County Jail) had made prior arrests of Ms. Schneider. In the incident reports supporting these prior arrests, Ms. Schneider is correctly identified by both Porter and Lawson as female.

The strip search Ms. Schneider endured was both humiliating and emotionally devastating. As performed, the search also violated Ms. Schneider's civil rights under the United States and California Constitutions. Unfortunately, as detailed above, this was not the first time that Ms. Schneider suffered from this sort of egregious treatment at the San Francisco County Jail, nor is Ms. Schneider the only person who has been subjected to this unlawful practice. Ms. Schneider has filed a federal civil rights complaint and intends to recover for her injuries and the deprivation of her constitutional rights caused by this outrageous policy and practice of the City and County of San Francisco and its employees.


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