Oct 2, 2015

Documents: Former officer violated Cody department policy in 2010 strip search

A former Cody policeman’s strip search of a suspect in 2010 violated the department’s policies and resulted in discipline in 2014, according to new court records.

Former Cody Assistant Police Chief George Menig’s search and arrest of Juan Paul Flores in September 2010 are the subject of an ongoing civil rights lawsuit in Wyoming’s U.S. District Court.

Flores claims Menig used excessive force: ripping his clothes off and shocking him with a Taser — all while he was handcuffed — during a search for explosives. The incident started when Flores flagged down a sheriff’s deputy near the Cody Law Enforcement Center and claimed to be a Taliban member who was going to “blow things up.”

George Menig. Photo courtesy Town & Village
Menig has denied any wrongdoing.

Documents filed in the lawsuit last week provide new details on the Cody Police Department’s internal investigation of Menig’s actions — including how it took place three years after the fact.

The police department’s internal report on the incident is confidential. However, the city had to provide a copy to Flores’ attorney, and Flores’ hired expert on police practices referenced portions of the report in a public court filing last week.

According to expert D.P. Van Blaricom’s recounting in court documents, the three other Cody police officers who witnessed Menig’s search took issue with his tactics.

Flores flagged down Sheriff’s Office Deputy Rayna Wortham in the early morning hours of Sept. 13, 2010, and refused to give a name beyond fake ones like “Pablo Escobar,” police reports say. He was carrying a mostly empty bottle of vodka and claimed he was willing to blow himself up using nitroglycerin that he’d swallowed.

Though he claimed to be from Afghanistan and prepared to die for the Taliban, the man appeared to know nothing about the Asian country, police reports say.

Responding Cody Police Officer Tom Caudle later said the man “wasn’t making any sense,” Officer Josh Van Auken saw the man as a “typical drunk jerk,” and Officer Scott Burlingame said “the threat did not seem very plausible,” Van Blaricom says in his report.

The three officers took precautions for explosives (shutting off their portable radios and moving back their vehicles), searched Flores, handcuffed him and called a bomb technician and Menig, according to police reports.

When Menig arrived, he searched Flores for explosives by “literally ripping his clothing off of him,” Van Blaricom said. When Flores refused to open his mouth to check for the supposed nitroglycerin, Menig reportedly shocked the handcuffed man with a Taser to get him to comply.

In his report filed on Flores’ behalf, Van Blaricom said Tasers should generally not be used on handcuffed prisoners.

“Such pain compliance amounts to coercive torture and is a prohibited police practice,” he opined.

After the arrest, Caudle, Burlingame and Van Auken “unanimously agreed that they had never seen such behavior before” and complained to Sgt. Jon Beck, “but the matter was not pursued further,” Van Blaricom wrote.

Menig had the other officers shut off their in-car video cameras before his search of Flores, but a stationary surveillance camera mounted on the side of the law enforcement center captured the incident.

Some three years later, an unidentified Cody police officer provided Cody City Attorney Scott Kolpitcke with the footage; Kolpitcke gave it to “City Administrator Jean Rosencrane,” Van Blaricom wrote, apparently referring to then-administrator Jenni Rosencranse.

Menig was then placed on administrative leave from Nov. 25, 2013 to March 10, 2014 while the city and Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam conducted an internal investigation, Van Blaricom wrote.

Ultimately, Rockvam found Menig had violated the Cody Police Department’s code of conduct in conducting the strip search, but had not used excessive force, Van Blaricom wrote. Menig was reportedly warned against taking “any retaliatory action” against the other officers.

Juan Paul Flores, sometime after his arrest
According to Van Blaricom’s recounting, Menig said during the internal investigation that his search of Flores was only “unconventional,” and accepted the discipline “under protest and disagreement.”

Van Blaricom wrote that Menig was allowed to keep his position. Menig continued to serve as Cody’s assistant chief through mid-September, when he resigned to pursue a job in the private sector, according to a news release from the city.

Flores filed his suit in September 2014, through attorney John Robinson of Jamieson & Robinson in Jackson.

In his report for Flores, Van Blaricom concluded that both the strip search and the use of the Taser violated Flores’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Flores was initially charged with a felony count of making terroristic threats, but that was later dropped in exchange for his “no contest” plea to a misdemeanor charge of interference with a peace officer. Court records indicate that Flores — who has a long history of run-ins with law enforcement — spent a significant amount of time receiving mental health treatment after the arrest, including being involuntarily committed.

Van Blaricom is a former Bellevue, Washington police chief who has spent the last three decades working as a police practices expert in more than 1,800 cases. He was the expert witness for former Powell resident Tricia Wachsmuth when she successfully sued the city of Powell and the Powell Police Department for violating her civil rights during a 2009 raid of her home. Van Blaricom generally charges $395 an hour for his services.

Menig, who’s being represented by the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, has until Oct. 21 to designate his own experts.

The case is tentatively set to go to trial on March 16, 2016, in Casper.


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