COLUMBIA, S.C. – Federal authorities are reviewing the case of a black South Carolina couple who say they were subjected to an illegal cavity search at the hands of white officers.
The FBI is among several agencies reviewing the case of Lakeya Hicks and Elijah Pontoon, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the inquiry said Thursday.
The official spoke with The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the case. The official said that the FBI reviews all allegations concerning potential civil rights abuses and could ultimately launch an official investigation after consultation with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Hicks, 31, was pulled over by Aiken police in October 2014 while driving a new car with paper tags, and officers searched the car for drugs. Pontoon, who was a passenger, says police searched his anal cavity on the side of the road. Officers found no drugs, and the couple was never charged with a crime.
There is no video of the search, but a dash camera recorded audio.
The city has stood behind its officers, saying they did nothing illegal. In a statement, the Department of Public Safety said no cavity search was performed and that the stop was legal and "part of an ongoing narcotics investigation."
The couple has filed a federal lawsuit over the ordeal, which comes after several high-profile incidents sparked a nationwide debate about how white officers treat African-Americans.
In the lawsuit, filed in federal court in November, the couple says they were pulled over because the car had a paper license tag, though the officer said later that he knew Pontoon, 40, because of previous arrests. In dash cam video, which has been widely circulated online in recent weeks, their car is then searched with dogs trained to sniff out drugs, and the couple is put in police cars before being searched themselves.
The lawsuit says Hicks' breasts were exposed as she was detained and searched by a female officer. During a search of his anal cavity, Pontoon explains that a mass the officer felt was not hidden drugs but was actually a hemorrhoid.
The officer is heard telling Pontoon that because of "your past history," he summoned a police dog to check the car. When Pontoon — who has prior drug arrests but none in recent years — objected to what he described as harassment, the lawsuit says the officer told him: "You gonna pay for this one boy."
"I felt very humiliated," Hicks said earlier this week in an exclusive interview with AP, the first time she and Pontoon have spoken publicly about what happened. "We don't want this to happen to anybody else."
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/