CAMDEN – Vineland police did not infringe on a local woman’s constitutional rights when they refused to let her get dressed while securing her bedroom in a 2010 raid, a federal court jury has found.
Tyisha Stratton had sued the City of Vineland, its police chief Tim Codispoti and former detective Gamaliel “Gami” Cruz in 2012, alleging Cruz and other officers violated her civil rights by making her wait topless while a search warrant was conducted in her home.
Cruz argued that he and the other officers acted appropriately while securing Stratton’s bedroom after they found drugs and guns on her husband and a United States District Court jury agreed last week.
The case dates back to Sept. 29, 2010, when police detained and arrested Stratton’s husband, Najee L. Stratton, at his mother’s house after finding an air rifle behind a crawl space there. Najee was also charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance.
Officers, which included Cruz and detectives Paul Shadinger, Misael Candelario and Gary Mollik, then headed over to Najee’s second house — an apartment on East Park Avenue he shared with his wife — to search for any proceeds he may have made off drug sales.
At the apartment, the officers found Stratton partially nude with her breasts apparently exposed.
“(Stratton) began arguing with the officers while yelling and using obscene language and refused to comply with the officers’ orders to remain still,” Cruz’s attorneys stated in their trial memorandum.
The detectives executed a search warrant at the apartment and conducted a sweep of Stratton’s bedroom to ensure no one else was present, they said in their official report.
During that sweep, however, they refused to let Stratton cover up her exposed breasts. Cruz said the entire incident lasted about 30 seconds, a fact Stratton denied.
After the search, the officers then let Stratton put on a tank top, escorted her out of the bedroom and placed her on the living room couch while they searched the rest of her home, their report states.
Stratton and her attorney, Paul R. Melletz, of the Cherry Hill law firm Begelman, Orlow & Melletz, disputed some facts and argued the officers forced a topless Stratton to wait for an unreasonable amount of time.
Stratton’s lawyers charged Cruz with infringing on her constitutional rights “to be free from unreasonable seizures” and to retain “bodily privacy.”
They also charged chief Codispoti with supervisory liability and the city with municipal liability.
In her testimony, Stratton described an incident that she claimed lasted 15 minutes and left her fearful and emotionally damaged.
In her version of events, Stratton said she heard a knock on her bedroom door and opened it to find 4 or 5 officers “with guns raised and flashlights out.”
After 15 minutes, Stratton said she was handcuffed and taken to her living room without being allowed to cover up her bare breasts.
Stratton said she was “extremely frightened” and urinated herself while being detained.
After police left the apartment, Stratton said one officer came back and “shoved” a search warrant in her face, saying, “There is your search warrant.”
Stratton claimed emotional distress in her civil suit, saying her sex life had been affected as a result of the raid and that she has lived in constant fear of police entering her home.