State attorney criticizes Lakeland Police after officer demands bra shaking

State attorney: city leadership needs to step in

LAKELAND, Fla. - As if getting pulled over by a cop isn't humiliating enough, a Lakeland woman said her recent encounter with an officer took it to a whole different level.

Zoe Brugger said an officer was so determined to find drugs on her, that he demanded she lift up her shirt over her stomach, then pull on her bra and shake it.  He never found anything.

The incident was caught on dash cam video.

"He really went to some great lengths to search for drugs," she said. "It was demeaning, degrading."

Brugger got pulled over on May 21 because of a broken tail light.

The video shows the officer, identified as Dustin Fetz, talking to Brugger through the car window like many typical traffic stops. He eventually asks her to step out and shake her bra.

"Everybody was watching this, watching this girl having to do this stuff.  And for what?  Because I had a head light out?  Really?" She said.

State Attorney Jerry Hill is asking the same questions.

"First of all, it's just plain inappropriate.  Let's get that out of the way.  It's just wrong," he said.

He said officers had no right to even search Zoe, her boyfriend, or their car because they did not have probable cause.  Investigators determined Zoe repeatedly asked the officer not to search the car, but he didn't listen.

In an unusual step, Hill sent a stern letter to Chief of Police Lisa Womack demanding an internal investigation and a close, hard look at how officers are trained.

"We don't know how widespread it is, but we know based on statements we've taken, it's not an uncommon practice, and may have existed for some period of time," he said.

Hill didn't find out about the incident until reading a letter to the editor in the Lakeland Ledger, written by Richard Wiley, a family friend of Zoe's.

"I was appalled when I heard about what happened.  I couldn't hardly believe it," said Wiley, a former attorney.

The following day, investigators from the state attorney's office started looking into the allegations.

During an afternoon news conference with reporters, Hill had harsh criticism for the department that's been the center of numerous controversies.

"I think the Lakeland leadership needs to take a really hard look at what they're providing for the citizens of Lakeland," he said. "Sadly, we've spent a disproportionate amount of time on Lakeland issues this year, and it's not prosecuting Lakeland cases."

The Lakeland Police Department would not answer questions about the situation, citing an "internal investigation."

Department Spokesman, Capt. John Thomason read a prepared statement to reporters, saying in part, "Chief Womack takes these matters very seriously and the department will conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations."

Following Hill's news conference, Chief Womack released her own statement, mostly reiterating the previous statement, but adding: "the department does not condone the alleged actions that have been reported in recent days and any officer proven to be involved in this type of behavior will be dealt with accordingly."

Officer Fetz, the main officer involved in the latest bra shaking controversy, served a four-day suspension, but is back to work.

Brugger hasn't decided yet if she'll take legal action.

"I just hope that the officers are trained properly, and conduct their traffic stops with respect," she said.

Late Thursday, Lakeland City Manager Doug Thomas released the following statement:

As City Manager, I too am deeply concerned with number and scope of the various recent alleged incidents of wrongdoing by a number of Lakeland Police Department Officers that have been reported by media outlets.  I want to assure our residents that the dedicated men and women of the Lakeland Police Department respect the trust the community has bestowed upon them to ensure that Lakeland remains a safe community.

The Citizens of Lakeland can rest assured that they have a dedicated Police Department that strives to deliver exceptional services in the area of public safety.  There are over 200 sworn personnel that go to work every day to ensure that Lakeland residents and our streets are safe.  We have award winning SWAT and K9 units and most recently, the Department successfully went through the CALEA accreditation review process with very positive results.  CALEA is a recognized standard for law enforcement agencies that strive to deploy best management practices and we look forward to attaining their accreditation later this summer.
 
There clearly have been several alleged highly irregular incidents involving LPD officers, but it is unfair to judge an entire department based on these isolated actions.  The City of Lakeland's Police Department has a thorough process for investigating complaints and misconduct and I have confidence in Chief Womack and the LPD administration to fully investigate the various internal investigations that are underway in a manner consistent with all applicable policies, procedures

and State Statutes.  The Lakeland Police Department and City Administration expect a high level of professionalism for those that serve our citizens.  We don't condone misconduct and any officer may ultimately be found to have acted in violation of the Department's General Orders, policies or State Statutes will be dealt with accordingly, including possible termination.

Print this article Back to Top

Comments