A recent incident at Georgia Tech has called into question what constitutes a lawful arrest or a lawful imprisonment. Georgia Tech alum Mary Clayton is suing Georgia Tech and its security company in federal court for unlawful arrest and unlawful imprisonment over an invasive search stemmed by a chicken sandwich.
When Georgia Tech alum Mary Clayton was told that she could not enter the football stadium with her chicken sandwich in her hand, she immediately threw it away. Rather than letting her enjoy the game in peace, security did not even let Clayton get to her seat before a female officer approached her and took her into the bathroom.
The search then conducted by the officer was not a simple “pat-around-the-pockets” type search. Rather, Clayton claims, and Georgia Tech security refutes, that she was told to take off her pants and shirt to fully expose herself. Security first carefully examined Clayton’s underwear and then told her to take off her shirt so that her bra could also be examined. Why security thought that anyone would hide a chicken sandwich in his or her undergarments is beyond my understanding. However, they did think so and conducted an invasive search to ensure that Clayton did not in fact enter the stadium with a chicken sandwich. Clayton, after suffering such humiliation, seeks justice in federal court.
Most people need to understand their rights, and a very important right is retained in the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. A key factor in a Fourth Amendment violation is whether or not a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. If a person is searched when they were entitled to a justifiable expectation of privacy, the search may be deemed unreasonable.
In Clayton’s case, the key question needs to be whether or not she had a reasonable expectation of privacy in expecting to keep her clothes on at a football game. It is not likely that chicken sandwiches are hidden in people’s undergarments. Therefore, the court will likely find that Clayton had a reasonable expectation of privacy in keeping her clothes on at the football game. After all, sporting events are recreational in nature. They are events aimed at allowing families, teens, spirited alums, etc. to get together and have a good time while keeping their clothes on! Therefore, the Court will likely find that the security officer’s search in the bathroom was unreasonable.
A question that comes to mind is whether or not Clayton’s situation can be seen as an unlawful arrest? Details are not given as to whether or not Clayton acted to resist an arrest. Generally, individuals can use reasonable force to resist an arrest. It seems that if Clayton verbally resisted or moved back, such movements would definitely be deemed reasonable. If Clayton attempted to push the security officer or become physical, such resistance is questionable.
Similarly, courts look to reasonableness when evaluating whether a detention was unlawful. Was the person detained for an unreasonable time period? Was the detention against a person’s will? Was threat or force used against a person? If questioning took place, were the questions within the scope of the matter? Such issues are relevant in evaluating whether or not a detention was unlawful.
In Clayton’s situation, more information is needed regarding the security officer’s actions and words, along with Clayton’s responses and reactions. However, if Clayton showed some sort of physical resistance or became violent, she is not likely to bring in a win on her charges in court. If however it is found that the officer’s conduct was unreasonable, Clayton will likely receive a hefty amount of damages for the mental anguish she suffered.
All in all, this situation can serve to teach us all a lesson. First off, we need to know our rights. Just because security approaches us and asks us to do certain things does not mean that we have to. Second, we need to keep in mind the importance of reasonableness when being searched or detained. Just because security has cornered you, does not mean that they can surpass the reasonableness guideline. Lastly, if you find yourself unlawfully detained or imprisoned, you can use reasonable force to get yourself out (in some situations). Look to the officer’s conduct to determine what would be reasonable in that situation. We need to depend on ourselves to protect our rights, because it is not always likely that law enforcement will.