What was going through Lakeland, Florida, Police Officer Dustin Fetz’s mind when he pulled over a car with a broken headlight isn’t clear. But what happened afterward was very clear, caught on dashcam in case there was any question.
Via Huffington Post:
On May 21, Fetz stopped Zoe Brugger and her boyfriend, Larry Fields, because the car they were driving had only one functioning headlight. While searching her during the stop, Fetz ordered Brugger to lift her shirt up, then pull her bra away from her body and shake it out so he could see if she was hiding any drugs.
What about having a broken headlight made Fetz think that Brugger had drugs? What made him think they were concealed in her bra? What made him think he had the authority to search her, to tell her to life up her shirt, to order her to pull her bra from her body, to shake it?
The answer from the Lakeland police is that it was all consensual, though there is no indication of what basis Fetz had to seek consent, and reap the benefits of submission to the shield.
A Lakeland Police Department review of the incident determined that Fetz’s request that Brugger shake her bra to see if anything was hidden “did not violate police search policy or the law,” according to the Ledger. Lakeland Police documents obtained by the newspaper describe the incident as a “consensual search.”
Of course, no woman would reach such a conclusion, right? Unless, of course, that woman happened to be the Lakeland Chief of Police, Lisa Womack, who runs a department where sex scandals abound, but I digress.
The burning question, of course, is what becomes of Officer Fetz now, following the public revelations that he’s into roadside bra-shaking of people in cars with only one headlight? He was suspended. But then,
The officer’s suspension was related to his misuse of recording equipment. He had his audio recording equipment turned off during the stop, the newspaper reported.
Punishment: one day suspension.
Although no drugs were found in the search, dashcam footage of it sparked outrage following the incident. An investigative report filed by the State Attorney’s Office called Fetz’s actions “egregious” and “demeaning.”
And yet, the punishment was a one day suspension. To provide context, had you (or I) had damn good reason to believe that a person we observed had concealed narcotics in her bra and, assuming anyone would do as we command, we ordered her to do what Fetz did, how much prison time would we get before being placed on the sex offender registry for life?
It’s not that Fetz is necessarily a sex offender, though it similarly isn’t out of the question, but that the message is made abundantly clear that a police officer can use his apparent authority to engage in “egregious” and “demeaning” conduct without any greater repercussions than a day off without pay.
We see video after video of officers exceeding their authority, sometimes in small ways and other times in ways that result in the needless and wrongful death of a human being, with the unifying theme that they are almost invariably excused for their conduct. Another video, that caused me an ironic chuckle recently, shows a cop who doesn’t want to be on video, and threatens
I’m telling you personally as a person, if you take my picture again I’m going to fucking break your face.
Easy to say from a cop with a shield, a gun and a dog. But there was no force, no strike, and thus only a video of the threat, which barely makes a ripple in the world of cops behaving violently in video.
The unresolved problem is that the same use of fiat, threatening harm whether explicitly or implicitly, to compel a person to comply was involved. In the “break your face” video, it was about taking his picture. When it involves commanding a woman to pull up her shirt and shake her bra, the same dynamic is in play, even if it’s first used to coerce consent.
Maybe the one day suspension was in recognition that Dustin Fetz didn’t take his search a deep step further, but the message it sends is clear, that no matter what runs through your head when a police officer “egregiously” exceeds his authority and forces a woman, a person, to engage in “demeaning” conduct, he’ll be back on the job in a day and you will live with the memory of how you were powerless to stop this sexual assault for far longer.