CIVIL RIGHTS ACTION IN PARIS, TX FOR ILLEGAL STRIP SEARCH OF COURTROOM OBSERVER

Jury Trial Loss

Civil Rights Action: Aji Jo Burress v. Ronnica Blake, Bobby Joe Hundley, Jr. and John Doe Defendant No. 1
Court: Eastern District of Texas [Sherman Division] [Civil Action No. 4:14-CV-0035]
Results: Jury Trial loss


Summary:

The plaintiff in this case, Ali Burress, was strip searched by Paris, TX police officer Ronnica Blake. According to Officer Blake, 6th District Judge Eric Clifford ordered her to do so when Ali allegedly mouthed the words, “I love you,” to a murder trial defendant.

Ali sued sued various Lamar County officials for the unlawful strip search on December 20, 2013.  She deposed Clifford and Blake under oath.

On June 29, 2015, Ali phoned Lamar County 911 in the middle of the night requesting assistance.  She explained her car had become disabled in rural South Lamar County.  Some minutes later, her phone went dead while speaking to 911. Among the last things she said to the 911 operator was she could see the lights of first responders nearing her location.  Responders found Ali’s disabled car where she described it would be found; however, responders advised they did not find Ali with the car as she advised on the phone, and as cell phone tower triangulation records indicated she would be.  A manhunt of several days followed.  A helicopter, tracking dogs, drones and officers on horseback were used.  She was not found.

This case went to jury trial January 23, 2017 without Ali to testify on her own behalf.  However, because the defense had deposed Ali during pretrial litigation, excerpts of the deposition were read to the jury to try to relate what happened to her.  Officer Blake testified that Ali volunteered to disrobe in the grand jury bathroom of the Lamar County Courthouse and volunteered to squat and cough for her.

With no victim to appear on the witness stand, the jury found Ali’s civil rights had not been violated.  On March 16, 2017 – six weeks after the trial – Ali’s decomposed body was found approximately one mile from where her disabled car was found that night by first responders.