On January 15, 2019, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Officer Joshua Wilson pressed hard on Mr. Mwimanzi’s testicles and reached into his buttocks, forcefully pressing on his anus. This search, which caused Mr. Mwimanzi long lasting physical and emotional pain, was conducted on a scant rationale: the possibility that Mr. Mwimanzi might have drugs because he was present in a friend’s apartment at a time officers were executing a warrant to search that location. Officer Wilson’s conduct reflects two concerning, and unlawful, MPD practices. The first is MPD’s official policy of allowing officers to treat warrants to search residences as implicitly authorizing searches of the people inside. Under a D.C. statute and an MPD general order, these searches are permissible any time the person could conceal an item listed in the warrant on their person. Under the Constitution, however, these searches are not allowed. The Fourth Amendment only permits officers to search people when a warrant authorizes such a search, or one of the limited, established exception to the warrant requirement applies. A warrant to search only a place doesn’t implicitly allow searches of persons, and presence in a place subject to a warrant doesn’t constitute an exception to the warrant requirement. Thus, D.C. law allows searches where the Constitution does not. The second practice implicated by this case is MPD’s reliance on sexually invasive searches. This is the fourth time in recent years that the ACLU-DC has sued an officer for inappropriately probing a person’s most sensitive body parts. Even if Officer Wilson had authority to inspect Mr. Mwimanzi for drugs, he had no basis to aggressively search his testicles and buttocks.
Mr. Mwimanzi has sought leave to sue the District for its unconstitutional policy of permitting searches of people based on warrants to search places, and sued both Officer Wilson and the District for Wilson’s unlawfully aggressive manner of conducting the search at issue here.
March 2022 UPDATE: A federal court held unconstitutional the D.C. law and policy permitting officers to treat a warrant to search a residence as authorizing searches of everyone inside. The court also held that Mr. Mwimanzi could bring his challenge to the manner in which he was searched to a jury.