A federal appeals court recently issued a ruling in a disturbing case in which a police officer forced a 17-year-old to masturbate in front of several other armed cops in an effort to obtain “comparative material” in a child porn investigation. A report from the Star Tribune states that a lower court judge had previously tossed out the lawsuit filed by Trey Sims, who was 17 at the time the photos were taken in 2014.
This unusual case, which is very interesting from the point of view of human rights and how far law enforcement agencies can go, had its beginning in 2014 when then-17-year-old Trey Sims decided to take naked pictures of himself and send them to his 15-year-old girlfriend. Shortly after, the girl’s mother found out and subsequently reported the case to the police in Manassas, Virginia. Sims was charged with child pornography and was later forced by a lower court to be photographed masturbating in the presence of armed police officers.
The case was investigated by detective David Abbott. To get evidence against Sims, Abbott tried to photograph Sims naked with his penis in a erect state in order to compare with the graphic photos on his girlfriend’s phone.
In 2016, Sims filed a federal civil rights suit alleging Abbott forced him to pull down his pants so the police could take pictures of his penis, the International Business Times wrote. Abbot reportedly demanded that the boy masturbate in front of the men. Unsurprisingly, Sims couldn’t achieve an erection so Abbott then obtained a second warrant authorizing police to escort Sims to a hospital for an “erection-inducing injection.” According to Ars Technica, the injection never happened due to tremendous protest from the public.
At the end of 2015, Virginia authorities decided to arrest Abbott. It turned out that the detective had reportedly had “inappropriate relations” with other boys. The case never made it to court because Abbott committed suicide as authorities went to arrest him on pedophilia-related charges.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled in favor of Sims and declared that “a reasonable police officer would have known that attempting to obtain a photograph of a minor child’s erect penis, by ordering the child to masturbate in the presence of others, would unlawfully invade the child’s right of privacy under the Fourth Amendment.”
Incidentally, Abbott’s legal representatives tried to defend the deceased man. They referred to a doctrine in United States federal law known as “qualified immunity.” This doctrine protects government officials against responsibility for actions taken as long as there is no violation of constitutional rights. However, the Court of Appeals found that there was a violation of such rights and deemed the warrant against Sims as an “obvious, unconstitutional violation.”