Compensation for strip search conducted based on a drug dog indication
Drug dog indication not sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion
Liam* walked through a busy train station when police stopped him with a drug detection dog. The officer told Liam he would strip search him because the drug detection dog indicated he was potentially in possession of drugs. Liam told the officer he did not see the drug dog give this indication when he walked past. Liam also asked the officer to wait for him to get his phone and record the interaction.
The police officer snatched Liam’s phone and told him to shut up and listen, and that he could not film without the officer’s consent. As another officer approached, the officer returned Liam’s phone. The police again told Liam that they would strip search him.
Unlawful strip search
They took Liam to an office and asked to lift his shift and hold his arms outstretched. One of the officers used his hands to turn out Liam’s pockets. He then inserted his fingers down Liam’s waistband between his body and his underwear to observe Liam’s underwear and genitalia. The search went for five minutes before they allowed Liam to go. The officers did not find any illicit substances in Liam’s possession.
Compensation for unlawful strip search
O’Brien Solicitors represented Liam in a civil claim seeking compensation for assault, battery, trespass to goods and false imprisonment. The officers’ observations of the drug detection dog did not provide reasonable grounds to suspect that Liam was in possession of a prohibited drug, or reasonable grounds to search Liam. This violated s 21 of the law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW) (‘LEPRA’). Accordingly, the officers committed assault and battery against Liam by unlawfully searching him. Since there was no lawful reason for the search, Liam also experienced false imprisonment for the duration of the search.
Further, the officers’ seizure of Liam’s phone was unlawful. The NSW Police Media Policy 2016 provides that:
‘members of the public have the right to take photographs of or film Police Officers, and incidents involving Police Officers, which are observable from a public space, or from a privately owned place with the consent of the owner/occupier’ (10.3).
To seize Liam’s phone, the officer needed reasonable grounds to suspect the phone was stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained. Or the phone may constitute evidence of the commission of a relevant offence, or another factor set out in s 21(2) of LEPRA. Alternatively, s 87M of LEPRA would allow the officer to seize or detain any thing that assists in preventing or controlling a public disorder. The seizure of Liam’s phone did not satisfy any of these requirements and constituted a trespass to goods.
*We change names to protect the identity of our clients.
Not all strip searches are legal. If you want to sue the police for an unlawful strip search, contact our Civil Solicitors on (02) 9261 4281. We can set up a free appointment with the civil lawyers in our Sydney office.