SALT LAKE CITY — Tamsen Reid said she didn't even realize something wasn't right until she tried to clear up a drug possession charge she said wasn't hers.
That's when she found out she was not really wanted out of Arizona and realized that the officer who she claims pulled her over and made her take all of her clothes off — allegedly so he could verify her identity — had violated her rights.
Wednesday, Reid, who turned 18 two weeks ago, sat in front of reporters and TV cameras and described the night of Nov. 20, 2010, when she said she was strip-searched while sitting in the passenger seat of a car pulled off to the side of I-15 in Box Elder County.
Reid has filed a civil lawsuit against former Box Elder County sheriff's deputy Scott Womack, who allegedly conducted the illegal strip search. The suit also names Box Elder County Sheriff Lynn Yeates, the county and up to 15 John and Jane Does.
Sheriff's Chief Deputy Kevin Potter referred all calls to their attorney, Frank Mylar. He noted that Womack "left employment" from the sheriff's office in March and said the Weber County Sheriff's Office is currently conducting a criminal investigation into Reid's case.
Wednesday, Reid spoke publicly for the first time about the incident. The petite woman, who was 17 at the time, said she and four friends — two boys and two girls — were driving to Idaho about 11 p.m. during a snowstorm when they were pulled over for speeding.
Because at least one of them was smoking, Womack said he was either going to have to call their parents or do a quick check of their car to make sure there were no drugs, according to Reid.
The woman said she had no reason not to believe the officer.
"Cops are supposed to uphold the law. I figure they're always out to do the right thing," she said Wednesday.
Reid believed Womack was actually trying to help her and her friends avoid having to call their parents or be booked into jail, she said. "He was joking around. He was being a nice guy about everything."
After checking their IDs, the deputy allegedly told them that three of the occupants had warrants out for their arrests. He had the girls lift their shirts and bras up, allegedly to look for drugs, according to Reid and her lawsuit.
Womack then told Reid she was wanted in Arizona for heroin possession. Reid tried to tell the officer she had never done heroin and never been to Arizona. She believed her ID was stolen because Womack claimed he ran a check on a computer using her driver's license number.
In an effort to allegedly make positive identification, Womack told Reid to undress so he could look for tattoos and piercings, the lawsuit states. After she refused one of the deputy's alleged orders, she said the search was over and she was allowed to get dressed. She claims the incident lasted about five minutes while it was snowing and dark outside with few other cars on the road.
When the group of friends got back in the car after Womack had left, the only thought in their minds at the time was, "Cool, no one got tickets," Reid said.
A couple of weeks ago, however, Reid said she wanted to try and get the warrant off her record in case she got pulled over again. What she found out was that she had no arrest warrant. And when she contacted Box Elder County, she found out the warning she was issued by Womack was never filed.
Wednesday, Reid provided a copy of her citation to reporters.
"This is one of the more shocking cases I've had in my career," Robert Sykes, Reid's attorney, said Wednesday.
Sykes said there was "substantial" evidence against Womack, claiming that he was fired from the department for misconduct and was under investigation even before Reid's case surfaced.
A spokesman with the Utah Department of Public Safety said Wednesday that officials from Peace Officer Standards and Training are conducting an investigation on Womack, but as of Wednesday he still had police certification.
Womack is under investigation for at least two other incidents, one by Weber County authorities and one in Box Elder County, Sykes said. He did not know the nature of the alleged violations. Potter, however, said he was not aware of any additional investigations involving Womack.
Frank Mylar, the attorney representing the sheriff's office, believes Sykes has some of his facts about the case wrong. He said a citizen approached the sheriff's office several months ago with a complaint, alleging the same issues as presented in Reid's lawsuit.
"As soon as the complaint was made it was investigated," Mylar said. "Quick and decisive action was taken. The sheriff and the sheriff's office did not do anything inappropriate."
He said the policies and procedures in the Box Elder County Sheriff's Office are strong, "But that's not going to guarantee against someone totally disregarding it." He added, "I don't see any wrongdoing on behalf of the sheriff or the department."17 comments on this story
For at least a month prior to Reid being pulled over, Womack was leaving his dash-cam in his patrol car off, according to Sykes, who said the deputy was also issuing citations and not filing his copies in the office.
While not admitting that that actually happened, Mylar said turning a dash-cam off during a patrol stop would be a violation of policy.
He said the sheriff and and Box Elder County were named in the suit for failing to properly train, supervise and discipline Womack.
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