A Harris County woman has sued six individuals and a state agency, alleging excessive force and unlawful arrest in a 2013 traffic stop incident.
Jennifer Stelly filed suit Dec. 18, 2014, in the Galveston Division of the Southern District of Texas against Joel A. Gonzalez, Jennifer Bui, J. Feilen, J. Bennett, Steven McCraw, Doe No. 1 and the Texas Department of Public Safety. citing violation of her constitutional rights.
According to the complaint, the defendants, all state troopers employed by the Department of Public Safety, subjected the plaintiff to excessive force and/or illegal cavity searches in a March, 17, 2013, incident, when Gonzalez pulled over a vehicle in which Stelly was riding as a passenger with her boyfriend on state Highway 332 in Freeport.
Gonzalez searched Stelly’s purse, found marijuana, handcuffed her and called Bui to the scene, the suit says, and Bui performed a cavity search on Stelly in front of all parties.
The plaintiffs alleges pain and suffering, humiliation and distress, and says the search was performed illegally with no probable cause, that she was arrested for DUI despite passing a breathalyzer test, and that she was forced to endure sexual assault.
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety denies Stelly's accusations.
"Immediately after learning of Ms. Stelly’s claim of an invasive search, the Texas Rangers conducted an investigation," DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said in a statement. "During the course of the Texas Rangers’ investigation, which included a review of the video of the search and interviews of the participants, it became clear that there was no such search, and Ms. Stelly was not credible.
"The Texas Rangers’ investigation was turned over to a Brazoria County grand jury, who found no basis to charge the trooper with any crime."
Vinger said the car Stelly was in initially stopped for speeding. When officers noticed an odor of marijuana, the vehicle was searched.
"Marijuana was found in Ms. Stelly’s purse and in the ashtray, and a handgun was found in the glove compartment," Vinger said. "Ms. Stelly admitted to officers at the scene that she had been smoking marijuana and consuming alcohol. After failing a field sobriety test, she was arrested for public intoxication. Ms. Stelly pled no contest to the charge."
Stelly seeks exemplary and punitive damages in excess of $200,000, compensation for medical expenses and lost wages, attorney fees, expenses and costs. She is represented by attorneys Allie Booker of Booker Law Firm and Joseph Plumbar, both of Houston.
Galveston Division of the Southern District of Texas case number: 3:14-CV-00396