Oroville grandmother strip searched

STRIPPED DOWN Pauline Johnson, 67, plans to file a claim to recover damages done to her home during a drug search.

STRIPPED DOWN Pauline Johnson, 67, plans to file a claim to recover damages done to her home during a drug search.

photo by Tom Angel

An Oroville grandmother who said she was humiliated and strip-searched by Butte County Interagency Narcotics Task Force members looking for illegal drugs in her home plans to file a claim with the county for damages.

Pauline Gray Johnson, 67, said she didn’t think any amount of money would compensate her for the “horrible” experience, but she was mad enough about it that she wanted to fight for it anyway.

Her tiny south Oroville home is still marked with evidence of an extensive search. Her bedroom closet doorframe is broken almost in two, along with her adult daughter’s bedroom door. The upholstery of her van has been ripped out and left in pieces on the floor.

The search started at about 3 p.m. on Dec. 12, when Johnson, two of her eight daughters and a family friend were standing in front of Johnson’s Elgin Street house. All of a sudden, Johnson remembered, sheriff’s deputies and BINTF team members surrounded them with guns drawn.

“I had one to my head, and so did my daughters,” said Johnson, who has 40 grandchildren. “I didn’t know what to do, I was so scared.”

She admits that her adult daughter, Patricia Haltiwanger, has struggled with drug use and acknowledges that this wasn’t the first time sheriff’s deputies had been to her house to look for illegal drugs. It was, though, the first time that they included Johnson so directly in their searches, she said.

She denies any drug use—prior or current—and said that she was shocked when she was taken into her bathroom and told to remove her clothes, piece by piece. A female officer searched her, while a male officer stood at the open door and watched, Johnson said.

“He just stood there and looked at me naked,” she said. “It was the most humiliating experience I have ever had.”

However, BINTF Commander Keith Krampitz said that Johnson was strip-searched because the officers had “probable cause” to think that she was holding drugs for her daughter. He noted that officers had found drugs at the house several times before, and that they found $1,000 cash in her blouse during the Dec. 12 search.

He denied that a male officer watched Johnson being strip-searched and said that only a female officer was present for that.

Although the deputies found no illegal drugs at Johnson’s house, she and her daughter Peggy Stillwell were both arrested for having food stamps that they were unauthorized to carry. Johnson maintains that she was simply carrying the food stamps for her daughter, Haltiwanger.

With the help of Butte Community Coalition President Willie Hyman, she plans to file a claim with the county for damages to her house from the search and fight the welfare fraud charge.