In a stunning common-sense verdict, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled that it was wrong for the Manassas Police Department to force a teen suspect to masturbate in front of armed officers.Yes, this is a ridiculous headline, and yes, it is 100 percent true. Here's the backstory. Back in 2014, Manassas PD started working a teen sexting case. Then-teenager Trey Sims was suspected of sending inappropriate and lewd photographs of his naked body to his then-15-year-old girlfriend. The girl's mother is the one who originally reported the case to the police. The Manassas Police Department decided that the best way to determine if the law had been broken would be to obtain a search warrant to collect "photographs of the genitals, and other parts of the body of [Sims] that will be used as comparisons in recovered forensic evidence from the victim and suspect's electronic devices." Then, in case the warrant wasn't already clear enough, it explicitly confirmed that "this includes a photograph of the suspect's erect penis."
The case made headlines at the time because of the heavy-handed prosecution of two underage teens sexting each other. Even to this day, the law has not caught up with technology, and children in relationships are being charged under the same crimes designed to go after adult predators. But the case was also noteworthy because detectives actually tried to force an erection-inducing injection on Trey Sims at a local hospital. Stiff public outcry, however, ultimately forced the police to stand down. A three-judge panel on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled 2-1 that the initial warrant against Sims was an "obvious, unconstitutional violation."
"We cannot perceive any circumstance that would justify a police search requiring an individual to masturbate in the presence of others," two of the judges wrote. "Sexually invasive searches require that the search bear some discernible relationship with safety concerns, suspected hidden contraband, or evidentiary need."The 2014 case was also notable because the lead detective at the time was an officer named David Abbott. He was the one who obtained the original search warrant giving him permission to photograph the teen's genitals and naked body. In December of 2015, Abbott committed suicide after officers showed up to arrest him on separate charges of pedophilia.
This context -- that the unconstitutional search warrant was ordered by a pedophile officer -- has led Trey Sims to sue the Abbott estate on a number of accusations, including Fourth Amendment violations. While the lawyers representing the Abbott estate argued in court that the family should have immunity from prosecution, the Appeals Court panel disagreed, allowing Sims' lawsuit to move forward. The court's determination that the search warrant was a violation of his constitutional rights will likely also open the door for Sims to sue the Manassas Police Department as well. While this sort of violation is certainly not common, the Appeals Court ruling is seen as a victory for individuals' 4th Amendment rights, namely the right to be free from unreasonable searches. And in case there was any doubt, this ruling makes it abundantly clear that forcing teenage suspects to get naked in front of a camera is a textbook definition of "unreasonable."