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Woman files $12.5M claim over body cavity search by Phoenix police

Erica Reynolds, center, at a press conference in Phoenix on June 24, 2019. (KTAR News Photo/Peter Samore)

PHOENIX – The city of Phoenix is facing a second multimillion-dollar legal claim directed at the police department this month, this time over allegations of an illegal body cavity search and ensuing cover-up.

Erica Reynolds, 37, is seeking $12.5 million for how she was treated during a Dec. 26, 2018, incident, according to a notice of claim filed Monday. A notice of claim is a precursor to a lawsuit.

The claim accuses police of sexual assault and battery, wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, gross negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to court documents, police said a long-term investigation had identified Reynolds as a co-conspirator in a drug trafficking ring.

According to her claim, she was taken to a south Phoenix police substation after being detained and forced to strip down to her socks and endure a cavity search conducted by a female officer who “inserted multiple unlubricated fingers.”

“Black bodies are not crime scenes,” Parris Wallace of Poder in Action, the Phoenix civil rights group advising Reynolds, said during a press conference.

“Our bodies are not to be treated this way without consent. Erica begged that officer to stop.”

Reynolds was left bleeding and in need of medical attention, the claim says.

No illegal contraband was found, and Reynolds wasn’t charged at the time.

The claim says Reynolds was treated for her injuries after the body cavity search, and hospital staff documented signs of sexual assault and rectal bleeding.

Police wouldn’t investigate Reynolds’ abuse claims or authorize the hospital to conduct a rape kit examination, according to the claim.

“They refused to accept it as a reported assault, and they refused to preserve the evidence,” Wallace said.

Reynolds was later arrested and booked on drug charges Feb. 6. The probable cause statement referred to the Dec. 26 traffic stop but didn’t mention a trip to a substation or a body cavity search.

“Nothing that Erica did before December 26, 2018 justifies police officers performing a body cavity search after an illegal arrest, without a warrant, and without a medical professional present,” says the notice of claim, which was prepared by The People’s Law Firm and addressed to the city, Mayor Kate Gallego and Police Chief Jeri Williams.

“Their conduct was uncontrovertibly unconstitutional, unlawful, and criminal. The only question is whether you will attempt to justify it – and the message you will send by doing so.”

Reynolds’ legal team has posted material related to the case at phxcavitysearch.com. The case has been publicized on social media with the tag #JusticeForErica.

Monday’s press conference was attended by sign-carrying protesters and women dressed as characters from the TV show “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Earlier this month, a Phoenix family filed a $10 million claim over an incident that started as a shoplifting case at a dollar store and gained national prominence after cellphone videos went viral. The footage shows one officer pointing his gun and yelling expletives at a pregnant woman holding a baby and another roughly handling a man.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Peter Samore contributed to this report.

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