Search and arrest
by Andrea Bowen
Verbal and physical abuse and a strip
search by the police for a minor traffic
violation does not happen in Houston, or
Trish Herrera, a 25-year-old Houston
businesswoman, says it does.
On March 5, 1978 while traveling
along the Gulf Freeway near the Scott
Street overpass, Herrera was stopped by
two patrol cars. She knew that she had
been driving 60 in a 50 miles per hour
Four Houston police officers approached her car, ordered her from it and
when she hesitated, she says, they verbally and physically abused her as they
dragged her into one of the patrol cars.
"When so many officers approached
my car, the only thing I thought was
'Oh, God, I'm going to be raped,' "
explained the longtime Houston resident.
"I had heard of girls being raped by
policemen and not having any recourse.
I just kept thinking this cannot be
happening," she continued.
"The officers shoved me into the
patrol car. They pushed so hard that I hit
my head on the car. By that time, I knew
I was going to jail," the local hair salon
owner recalled. She had never had any
previous confrontation with police nor
had she ever been inside a jail.
When she arrived at the jail, she was
told to sit on a bench while the officers
completed their paperwork. Moments
later, Officer C. A. Lawrence ordered her
to sign a court summons for a speeding
Finally, Herrera was subjected to a
"humiliating" strip search by a policewoman.
"When they put me into that empty
room and I was told to strip, I just
couldn't believe it. I thought, 'this is
totally ridiculous,' " she emphasized.
"I suppose I was luckier than other
girls this has happened to because I did
not have a cavity search. All the woman
officer did was a patdown."
After the strip search, Herrera was
informed that she was being charged with
changing lanes without a signal. She did
not have sufficient funds with her to post
Almost two hours after entering the
jail, she was permitted to make a phone
call. An hour and a half later Herrera
was released, after a friend paid $23.59
for the bond.
"When it was all over I was a nervous
wreck. I went home and slept for two
days," she stated.
During the ordeal, Herrera kept thinking that the officers were really going to
get in trouble for their actions. "I guess
it was my thoughts and strong feelings
"I signed a court summons for a speeding
violation. When I was told to strip, I just
couldn't believe it. I thought, 'this is totally
against these actions that did not allow
me to break up," she recollected.
She was afraid to worry her parents
about the incident, but knew she should
seek help to keep this from happening to
other Houston women.
"A friend suggested that I call Breakthrough and the newspaper's editor, in
turn, told me to call the local American
Civil Liberties Union if I wanted to take
action against the officers," Herrera
The ACLU workers, aware of such
practices in the past, have gone to bat for
Herrera. Her attorney, Matthew Horowitz
has filed a petition against the City of
Houston, Police Chief Harry Caldwell,
Officers Lawrence and R. G. Piel, two
unknown male officers and an unknown
female officer for violating Herrera's
rights under the fourth, eighth and 14th
amendments of the United States Constitution and under Article 1, Section 9
of the Texas Constitution.
These amendments pertain to "the
defendant (Herrera) having been subjected to needless physical brutality and
to an illegal custodial arrest and an
"We have not set an amount on the
lawsuit. It is not the money that I care
about. I just want this type of action by
the police to stop. I'm not the first person this has happened to in Houston. If
such practices are allowed to continue
I certainly will not be the last," offered
Horowitz said that the ACLU had
been contacted by other women several
years ago, but none would press charges.
One girl was searched so roughly (a
cavity search) by a matron that she began
The night Herrera was arrested,
another young woman also had been
apprehended, not for a traffic violation,
but for not having any identification
when entering a nightclub.
"That girl really was scared. She was
crying and shaking. I tried to help her by
telling her they (the police) can't get
away with this," Herrera explained.
"Hopefully with this suit, the policemen will think twice before subjecting
another girl to a similar search and arrest.
Sometimes when you give men the power
to kill, the power goes to their heads
and they cannot control it," she said.
When asked if she felt bitter toward
the police, she simply replied, "Against
the officers who arrested me, I feel bitter,
but not to policemen in general. There
are good and bad policemen like there
are good and not-so-good people."
Herrera's story has received national
attention. Soon after an article appeared
in Time (March 19) she was stopped by
a Houston police officer for an inspection
sticker check and because, "He said he
thought I was a little kid driving the car.
A crazy reason," she says.
"Sometimes, I feel that I will continue
to be harassed by the police because of
the lawsuit, but I don't care," she
In March, the ACLU filed a class-
action suit asking the U. S. district
court to restrict police from conducting
strip searches of women accused of minor
According to Time magazine, a
warrant would have to be obtained for
such a search and any cavity searches
would have to be done by a physician.
The suit also asks $125,000 in damages
for each victim.
Recently a woman has filed a suit
against the Brazoria County (Texas)
Sheriff's Department for conducting a
strip search. This woman was forced to
strip before she was allowed to see her
sons who were in jail. She was told the
officers were looking for marijuana.
Courts and high law enforcement
officials across the nation gradually
are setting guidelines that police must
follow while searching a woman. In California, Time reported, no woman can
be searched unless she is going to be held
in a jail. That state also has detailed
regulations to guard against the casual
jailing of a person for a misdemeanor.
Washington, D. C, is another city that
has detailed regulations about such
Whether Houston or the State of
Texas will ever have such legislation or
rules remains to be seen. Perhaps Herrera's case will be the precedent for such
Andrea Bowen is a former reporter for
the Orange Leader and is now a staff
writer at the Houston Westside Reporter.
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