A lawsuit filed on behalf of 30 strippers at two local nightspots was filed Wednesday seeking damages from the city of San Diego and the police chief for allegedly violating the strippers' rights during licensing inspections.
The strippers were employed at Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club and Club Expose when members of the police department's vice squad detained them and forced them to pose for pictures during "raids" in 2013 and 2014, according to the lawsuit filed in Superior Court.
The strippers were "nearly nude" when their pictures were taken while officers made "arrogant and demeaning remarks" and intimidated the strippers to keep them from leaving, the lawsuit alleges.
Attorney Dan Gilleon, whose firm filed the suit, said the strippers' rights to avoid unreasonable search and seizure were violated by the vice squad officers.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for "emotional distress and pain." The damages should be sufficient to "punish and to make an example" of the city and Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and to deter others "from engaging in similar conduct."
The lawsuit followed a claim filed with the city in March, which was rejected.
Nude entertainment establishments require a city permit, which gives police the right to make "regular inspections" and requires employees to show their identification cards, according to police spokesman Lt. Kevin Mayer.
Taking photographs of the employees, including of distinctive tattoos, is a routine part of the inspection process, Mayer added. Inspections are meant to deter the employees from engaging in illegal acts.
"The San Diego code mandates we make these inspections," Mayer said. "This is not a criminal matter, this is a regulatory matter."
If the strippers were dancing, or waiting their turn to dance, officers waited to interview and photograph them, Mayer said.
Gilleon said that while the permit process does allow such inspections, police went overboard, detaining the dancers for more than an hour against their will "without probable cause" and making them pose in various positions.
"Either the officers acted maliciously, knowing they were violating claimants' civil rights or SDPD's failure to train the officers amounted to deliberate indifference to the claimants' rights," Gilleon said.