The San Diego City Council approved a $1,492,500 payment to sixteen exotic dancers who claimed that officers harassed them and violated their civil rights.
The incidents happened in 2014 and 2015 when San Diego Police Department officers questioned dancers at the Cheetahs and Expose adult clubs and inspected their adult entertainment licenses which are required of all topless, nude and other adult performers in the city of San Diego.
The women claim that that the license checks were an illegal use of police force because officers allegedly herded the dancers into their dressing rooms as they arrived for work, ordered them to change from street clothes to bras and underpants, took photos of their tattoos and piercings, and refused to let them leave, even though there was no evidence of any crimes.
“I (had) my pictures taken from knees upward, and I (was) half-dressed,” Cheetah’s dancer Brittany Murphy said. “I felt kind of violated."
Sixteen dancers eventually sued the city in federal court.
One of them, who goes by the stage name “Angie," said she joined the lawsuit because the police inspections, in which officers carried guns and wore bullet-proof vests, was an unprovoked and unnecessary show of force.
"Not just a show of force like 'We can do this,' but 'We're going to do this and we're going to be jerks about it, and we're going to degrade you and humiliate you, and we're going to show you who's boss,’" Angie said.
Attorney Dan Gilleon, who represented Angie and 14 other dancers, argued that the officers' use of force, threats, and involuntary detention violated his clients' basic legal rights.
Federal Judge James Lorenz agreed in part, ruling that "...using inspections as a means of harassing and discouraging adult entertainment businesses violated the First Amendment, on its face."
Gilleon said that the pretrial ruling, and another like it, prompted the city to pay the dancers and settle the lawsuits.”
“You're never going to get the city attorney's office or the city of San Diego to admit they did anything wrong,” Gilleon said. “But when they pay $1.5 million, that's an admission."
Each dancer will receive about $55,000 from the city’s general fund, after deductions for attorneys’ fees and legal costs.
"It's not even necessarily about the money,” Angie said. “What (police) did has permanently changed the way I view the people that are supposed to protect and serve me. I shouldn't have to be afraid. I'm afraid now."
The payments and legal settlements were approved without discussion on the city council’s consent agenda Tuesday morning.
Council members Myrtle Cole and David Alvarez voted “no,” but did not respond to questions from NBC 7 about why they opposed the agreements.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer's office and the police department's public information office would not discuss whether or not the women’s complaints or the lawsuits have prompted changes to the department’s license inspection guidelines.
A spokesperson for City Attorney Mara Elliott told NBC 7 "The City will review its processes to see if they can be improved and make changes as appropriate."