Sheriff’s Falsified Drug Test Leads to Unwarranted Strip Search of Two Men

Photo:  Mike Hillingseter (Shutterstock)
Photo: Mike Hillingseter (Shutterstock)

In 2018, Brandon Pickens and Marcus Hyatt were pulled over for what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop but turned into a degrading strip search for drugs, according to the Citizen Times. When the deputies turned up with no contraband, one officer lied just to get a warrant for the strip search.

In a recent study from the National Registry of Exonerations, experts found drug crimes are nearly never reported to police. Why? Because it’s the police pursuing potential drug offenders who, more often than not, are innocent Black people. Majority of false drug convictions come from defective field drug tests or sometimes, fabricated ones. That is precisely the issue in Pickens and Hyatt’s case.

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The two were pulled over at a gas station after Pickens changed lanes without signaling, per a previous report from the Citizen Times. Five deputies approached them, one with a K-9 and the men were removed from the car and handcuffed. Little did Hyatt and Pickens know, the officers had followed them from their residence (an area suspected of drug selling) and filed a search warrant for the two. Despite there being no drugs in the car, Sheriff’s Detective Jeff May falsely claimed the two “smelled of cocaine,” resulting in the strip search.

Read more on the case from Citizen Times:

In August, Hyatt won his lawsuit in that court after it was found Buncombe County Sheriff’s Detective Jeff May falsified a drug field test and made false statements in order to get a warrant to search him. Hyatt is Black while the deputies are white. While not the central issue, race played in a role in the case, with Hyatt saying he was targeted because he is Black.

“The cavity searches were performed in a public gas station bathroom and were conducted in unsanitary, unreasonable and outrageous conditions such that would shock the common understanding of decency,” Pickens wrote in his complaint.

Filed in 2021 by Pickens, who is now in prison on unrelated charges, the lawsuit has not gone to trial and garnered no media attention, only coming to light after Pickens sent a recent letter to the Citizen Times. The latest filing was an Oct. 7 response from Pickens opposing a defense motion for relief from judgment.

Because Pickens is accused of being a habitual felon, his suit had to be filed separately from Hyatt’s. Pickens is also representing himself before the US District Court of the Western District of North Carolina in Asheville.

Per the report, Pickens is seeking accountability for the officer who applied for the search warrant that allowed for the search to be conducted. It’s uncertain whether justice will be served to these two men since Hyatt’s suit resulted in a $50,000 settlement and no officer discipline. Pickens making his claim while incarcerated may make his case more difficult to win as well.

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