Nearly 30 dancers who work at two San Diego-based strip clubs are filing a lawsuit against the city and the chief of the San Diego Police Department, claiming officers held them against their will and took inappropriate photos of them.
During the inspection, officers checked the dancers’ licenses but after that, the women claim the visit went too far.
Attorney Dan Gilleon, who is representing the women and Cheetahs, said the dancers were held against their will by SDPD officers without a warrant and without probable cause. They were then forced to take nearly nude photos so officers could document the women’s tattoos.
Gilleon said the inspection was legal, the checking of ID’s was legal, but the holding of the dancers and the revealing photographs violated the women’s Fourth Amendment rights as well as an anti-paparazzi law.
He said photos are not normally part of a routine police inspection at a strip club and are only allowed to be taken if officers are investigating a crime scene.
“They crossed the line – and that was the Fourth Amendment line. They crossed it, went in there and held them against their will and forced them to pose for photographs,” said Gilleon.
Cheetahs dancer Brittany Murphy said she felt “uncomfortable” during the unexpected police photo session.
"I was wearing a sheer one-piece type thing and yeah, the flashes were going and they could definitely see stuff, so that’s kind of uncomfortable. I mean, I am a stripper but…” said Murphy. "I don’t understand why we were taking naked photos when the pictures are our faces on our license. I don't really get that."
Murphy said she and fellow dancers were left shocked by the incident.
"A lot of the girls, well not like a lot, but some of the girls have emotional disorders and stuff and I was like very weird about coming back here because I felt very violated," she added.
The lawsuit specifically holds SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman accountable for how the officers allegedly acted during the inspections.
Gilleon said the City of San Diego has sent Cheetah’s a letter to revoke its license on the basis that it is allegedly violated the rules for an adult entertainment business.
However, Gilleon argues he has not seen any evidence of this and believes it’s “retaliation” for the women filing a civil rights claim against the police department back in March.
The attorney claims this is just another example of wrongdoing by the police department, which has been plagued with scandals this year despite the appointment of a new chief.
“This is more of the same here with the San Diego Police Department,” he added.
Through the lawsuit, Gilleon is hoping to bring change to the municipal code tied to these types of inspections, as he believes it’s been abused by officers because they are interpreting and enforcing it however they want.
Back in late March and early April, SDPD officials said the department didn’t do anything inappropriate.
Officers are mandated to conduct inspections and check permits at adult entertainment businesses and officials said documenting tattoos is a critical way to verify a person’s identity. They said dancers often change their appearances, so tattoos are an important identifying characteristic.
NBC 7 reached out to the SDPD and San Diego City Attorney’s Office for comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.
An SDPD spokesperson released the following statement Wednesday afternoon:
"The San Diego Police Department is required by the San Diego Municipal Code to inspect police regulated businesses. Nude establishments are one of many police regulated industries for which SDPD regularly conducts inspections. These inspections occur on a consistent basis throughout the year to ensure that all clubs and dancers are following the law.
The SDPD is currently conducting an internal investigation into allegations related to recent enforcement at Cheetah's Adult Nightclub. As is standard protocol, we will not comment on this on-going internal investigation.
The SDPD is aware of a civil lawsuit being filed against the police department related to enforcement actions at Cheetah's. The City Attorney's Office is defending the actions of the SDPD against these allegations and would be the appropriate entity to consider comments related to their investigation."
The city attorney's office said it would not comment on the cases.