In a bizarre-sounding story, a police sergeant in London was cleared of misconduct this week for ordering his officers to strip search a philosophy lecturer who was detained after reportedly trying to give a 15-year-old a legal contact during a search. There’s a lot here, so bear with me.
The Guardian reports that Konstancja Duff, a lecturer at Nottingham University, was arrested in May 2013 during a stop-and-search sweep at an East London estate. Duff had reportedly been trying to hand a 15-year-old a card with legal services contacts and advice, when she was arrested by Metropolitan police. The card was given to her by a police watchdog organization, and at a recent Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) panel, Duff testified that she’d been trying to help the teen.
“I was concerned about (the teenager’s) welfare, he was clearly distressed and I was also concerned about the problem—which is quite widely known—of racial profiling. I wanted to make sure he was aware of his legal rights around stop-and-search,” she said, according to Metro UK.
Instead, Duff was arrested and taken to a police station. Officers say she refused to cooperate with them, would not speak to them or tell them her name, and “went limp,” according to the Guardian, in an act of “passive resistance.” Then, Sergeant Kurtis Howard ordered her to be strip-searched. The search sounds incredibly traumatic—Duff says she was pinned to the jail cell floor as police officers tied her hands and feet together and used scissors to cut off her clothes. There’s also this, per earlier reporting from the Guardian:
Describing the impact of the search, Duff said: “Being tied up, having my breasts and genitals touched by officers, my earrings ripped out … I found that really humiliating and scary, and also being able to hear the male officers at the door and not knowing if they could see what was happening.”
The injuries from the search forced Duff to postpone her final piano recital of a master of performance degree at the Royal College of Music. She said she still suffered flashbacks from the incident and was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Duff had attempted to take legal recourse against the Metropolitan police for their treatment of her, but this week the IOPC panel held a disciplinary hearing for Howard. The panel was supposed to convene for six days, but on Thursday, with three days left, they cleared him of any wrongdoing, claiming the search was justified.
“They are effectively saying: ‘This is our policy; Met police policy is to strip search anyone who stands up for their rights or the rights of somebody else,’” Duff told the Guardian. “This makes very clear that we are not dealing with one bad apple, they are closing ranks and saying this is Met police policy. That’s my sense of what this judgment means.”
Duff has previously been cleared of all charges against her, which included police obstruction and assaulting police.