Dancers sue SDPD over harassment at Kearny Mesa club

SAN DIEGO - Thirty women who claim they were mistreated by police during inspections of two strip clubs in Kearny Mesa sued the city of San Diego and police Chief Shelley Zimmerman Wednesday.

Most of the women, who were employees of Cheetahs and Expose, claim they were held against their will during license compliance inspections on March 6. The remaining two plaintiffs made the same allegations about a raid conducted on July 15, 2013.

Brittany Murphy told reporters, "I felt like I wasn't even a human, practically. I felt ignored, violated, disrespected.'

Shortly after the most recent raid, Murphy told 10News that she questioned the process.  

"'I don't understand why I have to get my picture taken; is it of my face?' They're like, 'Yes,' so I get against the locker and she's standing really far, like she can see … she's taking a photo of my entire body," Murphy said.

City officials declined to comment on the suit filed in San Diego Superior Court, which alleges that officers blocked exits from the club while others went into the dancer's dressing rooms.

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Dan Gilleon, alleges the women were interrogated and photographed while nearly nude.

Surveillance video showed the dancers lining up to get their pictures taken. Some of the officers "made arrogant and demeaning comments to the entertainers, and ordered them to expose body parts so that they could ostensibly photograph their tattoos," the suit alleges.

Gilleon said his clients did not consent to the photographs or detention. He labeled this a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights in the, as well as a violation of the recent California law aimed at curbing paparazzi that harass celebrities with incessant photography.

"It says you can't detain somebody to take their photograph, and that's exactly what the police department did. It's all caught on surveillance video; they detained all these women to take their photographs," Gilleon said.

"They asked us for our licenses and then took down our Social Security and had us line up in the back of the dressing rooms and take pictures," stripper Katelynn Delorie told 10News in March.

Employees said 10 officers swarmed the building with guns and bulletproof vests, interrupting business for hours in the March operation.

"I didn't know if it was a bank robbery or serial killer on the loose the way they had come in like that," manager Rich Buonantony said at the time.

The clubs -- Expose is on Kearny Mesa Road and Cheetahs is on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard -- and dancers are subject to occasional police inspections as a condition of a city-issued license.

After the women filed claims against the city a few months ago, SDPD spokesman Lt. Kevin Mayer told reporters that cataloguing tattoos is an important tool for identifying adult entertainers, who can change their appearance with a wig, makeup or colored contact lenses.

Zimmerman was named in the lawsuit because of her status as chief of police, but she'd been in the job only a few days before the inspections took place.

Gilleon claims she knew of, or later ratified, the actions of the officers that deprived his clients of their rights against unreasonable searches and seizures, and made or approved of the decision to photograph the women.

The lawyer said he will be asking for $1.5 million -- $50,000 for each dancer -- to compensate for emotional distress and pain and suffering.

David Loy, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, told 10News, "The police can't pull you over when you're driving just to check your license; in the same way, they can't just barge into a business and seize you and detain you and ask for your permit."

San Diego Police issued this statement:

"The San Diego Police Department is required by the San Diego Municipal Code to inspect police regulated businesses. Nude establishments are one of many police regulated industries for which SDPD regularly conducts inspections. These inspections occur on a consistent basis throughout the year to ensure that all clubs and dancers are following the law.

The SDPD is currently conducting an internal investigation into allegations related to recent enforcement at Cheetah's Adult Nightclub. As is standard protocol, we will not comment on this on-going internal investigation.

The SDPD is aware of a civil lawsuit being filed against the police department related to enforcement actions at Cheetah's. The City Attorney's Office is defending the actions of the SDPD against these allegations and would be the appropriate entity to consider comments related to their investigation."
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