3 officers in strip-search case deny wrongful acts

File photo of police emergency lights.
File photo.

MILWAUKEE (AP) – Three Milwaukee police officers accused of illegally strip-searching a man in 2012 testified in federal court Wednesday that their search was appropriate and that no nudity was publicly exposed.

Officers Michael Gasser and Keith Garland Jr. testified that they stopped Leo Hardy, 40, because they were looking for a suspect often seen with him. They and Officer Michael Valuch Jr., who arrived on the scene later, acknowledged patting down Hardy to search for weapons or drugs, but they denied his allegations that they grabbed his genitals, pulled down his pants or otherwise exposed nudity to public view.

Garland acknowledged running a “bladed hand” between Hardy’s buttocks, but said it was over Hardy’s clothes, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

At least 60 people have accused Milwaukee police of conducting illegal strip searches and body-cavity searches from 2008 to 2012. Hardy’s is the first of what could be numerous federal lawsuits alleging civil-rights violations.

Strip searches can be conducted only with permission of the chief or supervisor, unless an officer believes the suspect has a weapon. Cavity searches must be performed by a medical professional.

Hardy testified earlier in the week that Gasser groped his genitals, and that officers pulled his underwear from his body in a way that exposed his buttocks. One witness testified that Hardy’s buttocks were in clear view, and another says she saw his pants around his ankles.

Garland testified that he and Gasser were in such haste to check Hardy for a weapon that they exited their squad car without turning on their emergency lights, which would have activated the dashboard camera.

Valuch said he arrived later, and that he also searched Hardy. He said he used standard pat-down procedures that exposed no nudity.

Closing arguments were expected Thursday.

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