A female officer with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department allegedly probed the inside of a black waitress' vagina while a male officer watched — leading to discipline for the female officer and, now, a lawsuit in federal court.
The lawsuit, filed in November by attorney Jeremy Hollingshead, alleges that detective Angela Hawkins handcuffed 24-year-old Kayla Robinson after she was a passenger in a car during a routine traffic stop in 2012. Hawkins allegedly pushed the young woman up against a tractor-trailer and demanded to know where "the dope and the guns" were, according to the suit.
But the cavity search turned up no drugs. And Hawkins was later disciplined for her actions, the suit says.
The litigation stems from the night of October 19, 2012, when Robinson was riding with two other people in north St. Louis following a Cardinals game. Hawkins and her partner spotted the car making a U-turn on Goodfellow Boulevard around 10:45 p.m. Theorizing that the driver was trying to avoid a police checkpoint down the road, they pulled the car over near the 3400 block of Goodfellow.
During a search of the car's occupants, Hawkins would later allege in an incident report that she caught Robinson trying to hide a bag of weed inside her underwear — and trying to conceal a crack rock beneath her left foot.
But while the lawsuit concedes that Robinson relinquished a small baggie of weed to Hawkins, Robinson denies possessing crack. The suit alleges that Hawkins accused her of slipping something else inside her pants — and marched her, handcuffed, approximately 200 feet to a nearby tractor trailer parking lot.
Robinson pleaded to be searched in a police station, but the detective insisted that the search take place right there. Hawkins put in a radio call, requesting a a pair of rubber gloves.
Soon after, a male officer in a patrol car arrived with the gloves.
From the lawsuit:
Defendant Hawkins put the gloves on, turned Plaintiff around so as to face the male officer, and began unbuttoning Plaintiff’s pants. At this time, Plaintiff was crying hysterically and begging Defendant Hawkins to take her to jail and search her there. ... Defendant Hawkins instead forced Plaintiff to bend over and placed her fingers inside Plaintiff’s vagina. ... After finding no drugs on Plaintiff during the course of this unreasonable and unlawful search, Defendant Hawkins fastened Plaintiff’s pants and slammed her with excessive force into the parked trailer.
Robinson was arrested on suspicion of two counts of drug possession, but criminal charges were never formally filed by the city's Circuit Attorney.
Instead, Robinson filed a complaint with the department's internal affairs division. Nine months later, the department responded with a letter addressed to Robinson's home in Overland; however, in the lawsuit Robinson says that the letter never arrived.
In 2015, Robinson called the internal affairs division to inquire about her three-year-old complaint. Finally, she received a letter back. It stated,
You allege that during a traffic stop, Detective Angela Hawkins conducted a search of your person and pulled your pants and underwear down. During the search, Detective Hawkins touched your genitals with her hand. In addition, you allege Detective Hawkins forcefully pushed you against a semitrailer, causing injury to your arm.
Robinson's complaint, the letter continued, had been "sustained." Hawkins would be "disciplined." What form that discipline took was not explained.
Hollingshead says that Hawkins' behavior was par for the course.
"This is indicative of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department," he says. "They do it every single day. They target African Americans, oftentimes from northern areas of the city, and they try to shake them down. They make false allegations, threats against them, and their hope is that somebody is going to be weak enough to roll over and provide information to them."
In response to questions about the lawsuit and internal affairs investigation, an SLMPD spokeswoman told Riverfront Time
s Tuesday that the department does not comment on ongoing litigation and that Hawkins' disciplinary records are closed to the public.
Along with Hawkins, the lawsuit also names St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, the city of St. Louis and two other SLMPD officers who were involved in the traffic stop and subsequent investigation.
Hollingshead says his client hopes a sizable verdict will finally convince the city to crack down of its officers' abusive tendencies.
"This is one of the most corrupt police departments in the country. They just don't learn," he says. "I know Kayla's hope is that is that a jury finally hits the city with a big enough number so the city says ‘OK, fine. We’re going to stop doing this.’"
In a statement provided by her lawyer, Robinson writes that she harbors no hatred towards police. In 2012, she had been studying for a degree in criminal justice, planning to become a police officer herself.
Those plans have changed.
"Because of my treatment by the police, I immediately realized that I could not work for a team that treats people differently because of their race," Robinson writes, noting that she has since decided to pursue a career in teaching. "It break my heart that, since my police encounter, my own five-year-old daughter has told me that she only sees police as taking people to jail, not her friend."
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com