The city this week paid two female bodybuilders a total of $65,000 to settle a claim filed after Costa Mesa police officers forced them to prove their sex at a Pacific Amphitheatre concert last fall.
Lori Sencer and Bridget Morton were stopped by police outside the women’s bathroom during a concert in October and told to provide proof that they were women after the officers received complaints that men were inside the bathroom. Sencer, who has been weightlifting for 13 years, provided a driver’s license, but Morton, whose license was in her car in the parking lot, was forced to strip before a first-aid nurse to prove that she is female.
The women claimed that the police also verbally harassed them, including calling them “transsexuals.”
The City Council approved paying Morton $45,000 and Sencer $20,000. The settlement was approved last week, but the city’s lawyer did not release the amount until this week following a request under state public records law.
Civil rights attorney John Duran, who represented the women in their $1-million claim, argued that his clients’ rights to privacy took precedent over the public’s right to know how much the city agreed to pay. However, he said, he did not intend to fight that battle in court.
“The amounts are an indication of the personal distress that each of them went through, something that I didn’t want their friends and family to see in the paper,” Duran said. “It’s a conflict . . . but it’s not something I want to fight in court. There are bigger battles.”
Mayor Mary Hornbuckle said she plans to send a letter of apology to the women, adding that she was “very regretful that this incident happened” and hoped that it would not blemish the reputation of the entire Police Department.
“I’m very proud of our police force, which is universally recognized for having empathy for people who are not like everyone else,” Hornbuckle said.
Police say the department has not added any new training programs for officers as a result of this claim. Duran said, however, that the department requires officers to take part in a program already in place to teach sensitivity toward women and minorities.
Police Chief David L. Snowden could not be reached for comment.
The additional training and a request for a public apology were part of the claim, Sencer said, but so far no apology has been issued. She said she will use the money to return to college to study physical therapy. Morton, who quit her job at a retail clothing store at about the time the settlement was announced, was not available for comment on Thursday.