A former sheriff from a rural county in northwestern Missouri has pleaded guilty to coercing eight women to expose their breasts and other areas of their bodies during law enforcement searches.
Neal Wayne “Bear” Groom, who served as Worth County sheriff for eight years, pleaded guilty on Wednesday in federal court in Kansas City to violating the women’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches.
He admitted that between May 2006 and December 2007 he coerced the women to expose parts of their bodies during purported law enforcement searches.
Some of the women were photographed.
The then-sheriff told the women he was checking them for injuries or evidence of drug injections. Prosecutors said Groom had no legitimate law enforcement purpose in forcing the women to expose their breasts and other areas of their bodies.
Under certain circumstances, police may conduct intrusive searches when they have reasonable suspicion that a subject is concealing contraband or a weapon. Prosecutors concluded Groom was not justified in conducting his searches.
The victims are identified by their initials in a six-page charging document filed in federal court. It describes the eight incidents:
- In May 2006, B.M. was forced to expose her breasts during a search by Groom.
- In June 2006, W.C. was forced to expose her stomach and lower abdomen.
- In March 2007, K.H. was forced to expose her bra-covered breasts and abdomen.
- In the spring of 2007, J.D. was forced to expose her breasts.
- In June 2007, A.H. was forced to expose her breasts, covered only by her hands.
- Also in June 2007, S.B. was forced to expose her breasts.
- In the summer of 2007, A.J. was forced to expose her upper chest and abdomen.
- In December 2007, M.O. was forced to expose her breasts.
Groom faces a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for each of the eight admitted charges. A sentencing date has not been set.
“Such egregious misconduct by those entrusted to uphold our laws will not be tolerated,” Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, said in a statement.
“Law enforcement officials are not above the law,” said Beth Phillips, US Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. “When they abuse their authority by violating the civil rights of the citizens they are sworn to protect, they will be held accountable.”
Worth County is in northern Missouri and borders Iowa. It is the state’s smallest county with a population of roughly 2,200. Groom ran for reelection as sheriff in 2008, but lost.