Should two Kane County sheriff's deputies be investigated for possible misconduct because they failed to follow steps spelled out in a state law during a strip search of a suspect?
The attorney for a Minnesota man whose strip search was overturned by a Kane County judge this year wants a special prosecutor appointed to probe the actions of Kane County sheriff's Sgts. Ron Hain and Scott Flowers.
Kathleen Colton, the defense lawyer for Ismael Jaimes-Meza, 23, of St. Paul, argued this week the officers "knowingly and recklessly" broke the law when strip searching Meza and two others after an April 15 traffic stop off Interstate 90 near Elgin.
Colton contends the Kane County state's attorney's office has a conflict of interest because Hain has seized some $2.5 million in drug money the last seven years and much of it is forfeited back to the county. She wants the attorney general's office to investigate.
"The state's attorney's office in Kane County has an interest in keeping Sgt. Hain on the road," Colton said. "Not every time a police officer commits a crime there's a need for a special prosecutor, but this is a unique circumstance."
Colton argues Hain, who makes arrests in about 5 percent of the 35 to 40 traffic stops he makes each month, violated Meza's Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
"We all have those rights," Colton said. "It's everybody who gets stopped by Sgt. Hain, including the 35 people or so each month who get stopped by him and let go."
Colton said Meza was not under arrest and deputies failed to get written permission from a commander as well as prepare a special report on the search, which are two requirements under state law.
Colton also noted that strip searches are only allowed in cases involving drugs or weapons while the sheriff's sergeants testified Meza was detained as part of a money laundering investigation. Colton said Meza's girlfriend and the driver of the sport utility vehicle Meza was riding in also were strip searched, held overnight at the jail, but never charged with any crimes.
Judge John Barsanti ruled earlier this year that the search of Meza, which turned up some 89 grams of methamphetamine worth an estimated $8,900, was improper and evidence seized would not be admissible in court. Kane County prosecutors have appealed the ruling.
Barsanti will decide Dec. 16 whether a special prosecutor is warranted.
Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Deborah Lang argued Hain and Flowers did nothing wrong. "There is no intent or reckless act on behalf of either officers," Lang said.
Sheriff Don Kramer has said he cannot comment on Meza's case, but has added: "We have the most up-to-date policy and procedures for strip searches in the jail and we follow those procedures."
If a special prosecutor is appointed and determines the deputies intentionally failed to follow the law, actions taken against them could range from internal discipline to charges of official misconduct, a felony that carries a maximum five-year prison term.