Strip-search decision faces legal challenge

B.C. police complaint commissioner says decision that cleared an Abbotsford Police officer of wrongdoing was made in error

The province’s police complaint commissioner has petitioned the court to quash a decision made in December related to a strip search conducted by an Abbotsford Police officer.

In B.C. Supreme Court documents, Stan Lowe said retired judge William Diebolt erred when he cleared Const. Karen Burridge of any wrongdoing.

Diebolt concluded that the officer had “reasonable and probable grounds” to perform the strip search and to conduct it in a gas station washroom, rather than the APD station.

The complainant had alleged that the strip search was conducted illegally and without her consent.

The incident occurred on Aug. 15, 2009, when Burridge and another officer were transporting a prisoner, who told them he recognized a female drug dealer driving a vehicle in the area.

The officers pulled over the woman’s car in the 32500 block of South Fraser Way. They were joined by a third officer in a separate cruiser.

All three officers noticed the smell of burning marijuana coming from the car as they approached it. Her vehicle was searched, and no drugs were found.

The woman, who had a criminal record for drug trafficking, was then told she was required to be strip-searched.

She had a temporary permit on her car that was two hours away from expiring, and she was given the option of being searched at the police station or in nearby gas station washroom to save time, according to documents from the initial ruling.

She opted for the immediate search, conducted by Burridge, and no drugs were found. She was released without charges, but filed a complaint with the Abbotsford Police Department 18 months later.

The investigating officer concluded that although Burridge had failed to advise the suspect of her right to retain counsel, the officer had “acted in good faith,” and her actions did not constitute misconduct. APD Chief Bob Rich agreed.

The OPCC felt the matter should be reviewed, and Diebolt was appointed.

He concluded that the strip search was warranted because the suspect was known to be involved in the drug trade and marijuana could be smelled coming from her car.

Lowe said Diebolt erred in “applying the common law” and the “doctrine of good faith” in making his decision.

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