Raleigh Police officer K.E. Van Althius is being accused of sexual assault by a 26-year-old woman’s attorney, Karen Griffin. After being arrested at a gas station on September 25, and charged with driving while intoxicated, Griffin said the body search conducted on her client went too far.
“The officer touched my client in every way that a normal person, especially a woman, would not want to be touched by a man,” Griffin said to WRAL-TV. The driver was found to have a blood alcohol content of .15, according to police, which is nearly double the legal limit under North Carolina law.
While the woman’s identity has not been revealed, Griffin, who received the body camera footage from the district attorney’s office as part of the evidence in the case, said she’s never seen a more invasive search. “He touched her breasts and shook them. He touched everywhere else around her private parts,” the woman’s attorney said. “He made her turn to face the car, asked her to spread her legs apart, then asked her to spread them further and ran his hand in between her legs.”
Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown supported the move to release the body camera footage, and defended Althius during a press conference on Wednesday.
“That officer was absolutely professional in everything that he did,” Deck-Brown said. “He conducted a valid search incident to the arrest of a DWI suspect. The comments from the local attorney … I think that they were egregious, and I think that they were erroneous, and I think that they were unprofessional. He didn’t deserve that allegation, and I needed to speak out on his behalf.”
Officer K.E. Van Althius Remains on Full Duty in the Field Operations Unit
As of November 6, the police officer who performed the body search in question is still working with the department, however, the question as to whether he performed a routine body search or crossed the line has yet to be determined.
Pete Rubino, who was a police officer for 30 years and is now the vice president of the Carolina Safety Resource Group, which consults with law enforcement agencies, agreed with Griffin’s evaluation. “I’ve never seen an extensive search like that for a DWI,” Rubino said. “If that officer really thinks it’s reasonable to do that, that officer may need to look at procedures again.”
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman doesn’t see Althius’ actions as a crime. “Searches are invasive by their nature, in order to make sure the officer is protected,” Freeman said, mentioning that the woman could’ve been carrying a small weapon, like a needle or razor blade.
“Is this something we would like to see done or have done to us?” Freeman continued. “No. Is it something that is illegal in the context of conducting a search to an arrest? It does not appear to be at this point. Our role in this situation is to try and make a determination whether there’s been any criminal violation. Looking at it preliminarily at this point, we don’t see that.”
Sargent Renae Lockhart said, “It’s intrusive, but the point of the search, again, is to make sure that folks don’t have the kind of contraband or weapons on them that could hurt us or harm anyone else,” Lockhart said. “Our primary concern is safety.”