A U.S. District Court jury yesterday awarded $42,748 to a Falls Church woman arrested and later strip-searched by D.C. police two years ago after she refused to pay a $2 parking lot fee.
The plaintiff, Bettye Heathcock, 54, was taken into custody by police after she tried to leave a lot at 14th and H streets NW because she decided the lot's fees were too high, according to court testimony.
Strip searches by D.C. police in minor traffic and parking cases have been prohibited since 1975, when U.S. District Judge June L. Green banned the procedure. Green found the city government in contempt of court in January 1983 for violating her order in the Heathcock incident.
U.S. District Judge William B. Bryant last week found the District guilty of negligence in the Heathcock case in light of Green's earlier mandate. The six-member jury made its damage award to Heathcock on that count.
The jurors, who deliberated for a total of 10 hours on Friday and yesterday, also found D.C. Police Chief Maurice Turner guilty of negligent supervision for failing to enforce Green's order but awarded no damages.
The jurors sided with the District and with the arresting officer, William Mason, on several other allegations, including false arrest, assault and battery, the intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil rights violations.
Bryant earlier dismissed the parking lot operator, Parking Management Inc. (PMI), and two PMI employes as defendants. A second police officer, Thomas Jones, also was dropped from the case by Bryant during the week-long trial.
Heathcock, who was employed as a typesetter, was returning to work at the D.C. Bar Association's offices at 1426 H St. NW on the evening of May 6, 1982 when the incident occurred. Heathcock worked for a company hired to produce the bar's magazine, The District Lawyer.
According to court papers, Heathcock pulled her automobile into a PMI lot across the street from the bar offices, took a ticket and then asked an attendant whether there was a maximum fee for parking.
When she was told the fee was $2 an hour, Heathcock decided to leave, the papers said.
Heathcock's complaint said the attendant refused to let her leave without paying $2.
Heathcock said in court papers she pulled into the lot and took a ticket because drivers behind her were honking their car horns.
When Heathcock declined to pay, according to court papers, an argument ensued and a crowd gathered. Heathcock was arrested a short time later and charged with entering the lot under false pretenses. The charge subsequently was dropped.
At the Second District police station, according to court testimony, Heathcock was told to remove her jewelry, including pearls, a necklace, a watch and a ring.
Heathcock testified she was later questioned and then ordered to strip to her underwear for a body search.
Before her release, according to her complaint, Heathcock was told by an officer that her ring was missing. Heathcock testified that she was then subjected to a second, more thorough search.
Heathcock said she was ordered to remove all of her clothing and told to squat, jump up and down and lift her breasts.
She testified that a female police officer also searched her ears, nose, mouth and hair. A woman sharing the cell also was strip-searched for the ring, according to court papers.
Witnesses for the District denied in testimony that the first strip search of Heathcock took place. A female officer acknowledged on the witness stand that she had searched Heathcock's body for the missing ring but denied inspecting Heathcock's ears, nose, mouth and hair.
Heathcock's lawyer, Steven Milliken, said the ring was never found.