After stopping a woman for driving with a broken taillight, a Florida police officer subjected her to a humiliating drug search, ordering the young woman to lift her shirt and shake out her bra.
Zoe Brugger, a young mother and resident of Lakeland, was stopped by police on May 21. She had been driving with a broken headlight and a suspended license after picking up her boyfriend from work, but the officer was convinced that he would also find drugs on the couple.
After speaking with Brugger through her car window, Officer Dustin Fetz asked the 28-year-old woman to step out of the vehicle. While standing outside, the officer asked her to empty her pockets, and then twice requested that she “pull her shirt up, pull her bra out from her breasts, and to shake,” in order to see if she was hiding drugs, according to a report from State Attorney Jerry Hill.
“He made me go through the whole humiliating ordeal with shaking my bra out right there in the middle of this parking lot on Beacon Road,” Brugger told WFLA News. “He told me that he was taking me to Bartow Jail for driving on a suspended license and that they had an x-ray machine there and they were definitely going to find what I had hidden inside me there.”
Video from the officer’s dashboard shows the officer ordering the woman to lift her shift. But Fetz had turned off the camera’s audio, which makes it impossible to know exactly what was said.
The officer also searched the couple’s vehicle, despite their protests – a procedure that is illegal without probable cause.
State Attorney Investigator Mike Brown told The News Herald that if the audio had been on, “there would be little to no speculation as to what occurred during that traffic stop.” At the end of the traffic stop, Fetz allegedly told Brugger, “I’m done scaring you, and now you can go home.”
After the humiliating incident, Brugger filed a complaint against the officer and notified the State Attorney’s Office. Hill sent a letter to Chief of Police Lisa Womack, calling for an internal investigation into the incident and a critical look at how the Lakeland officers are trained.
“First of all, it’s just plain inappropriate. Let’s get that out of the way. It’s just wrong,” Hill told ABC Action News, noting that the officers did not even have a right to search Zoe, her boyfriend or her car without probable cause.
“I think the Lakeland leadership needs to take a really hard look at what they’re providing for the citizens of Lakeland,” he said, referencing a department that has been at the center of numerous other controversies. “Sadly, we’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time on Lakeland issues this year, and it’s not prosecuting Lakeland cases.”
Fetz was suspended for four days with pay, and returned to work on June 18. Lakeland Police Chief Lisa Womack released a statement in which she said that “this type of behavior will be dealt with accordingly, including possible termination.”
The police department has launched its own investigation of the incident.