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Officers grilled as Filipina decries repeated strip-search

10 May 2018

By Vir B. Lumicao

A Filipina maid said she was “ashamed, stressed, and shivering in cold” when several police officers strip-searched her several times in the early hours of Jan 3 after arresting her for the alleged theft of $500 and a lip balm.

But five of six officers who Margie Lotino reportedly pointed at during an identification parade at the Wanchai police station on Apr 13 denied they had gone beyond the body search level stipulated in police guidelines.

Lotino, giving evidence during her trial in Eastern Court on Apr 20 for theft, was emotional each time she was queried by both prosecution and defense lawyers about the alleged strip-searches.

She said that during two separate body searches in the toilet of her employers’ flat in Pokfulam, various officers took turns ordering her to strip down to her underwear. She was reportedly told to take off her top clothes first, then her lower garments.

“They told me to take off my jacket and shirt, and then they pulled my bra and looked into it.

Then they ordered me to take off my trousers and socks. They pulled my panty and also looked into it,” Lotino said, breaking into a sob.

At one point, Magistrate Simon K. F. Ho called a break as the Filipina, who is in her 30s, became too emotional.

She positively identified five female officers who allegedly conducted the body searches on her on four separate occasions: first in her employers’ house, second at the Western Police Station, third at the Wanchai Police Station, and fourth, back at the Western Police Station.

She also identified a male officer who signed the custody search document, which contained details of the searches.

Earlier on Mar. 13, Lotino pleaded not guilty to stealing a $500 bill from her employer on Jan. 2, claiming she had been set up.

Lotino said she found the bill on the floor while she was cleaning the master bedroom, and put it on a cabinet top in the living room.

She said she told her employer about finding the money when the latter got home that evening. The employer, who was then in the bathroom, reportedly thanked the maid but reached out for the money with a towel, a suggestion that she did not want her own fingerprints on the bill.

Not long afterwards, police came and Lotino and her belongings were searched.

Lotino said she was forced to sign a cautioned statement admitting the offence because she was cold, hungry, and was under intense pressure from the repeated body searches and interrogation she was made to endure.

“You better admit you stole the money and I will send you to the Philippines,” on officer allegedly told her at one point, but the maid said she insisted she was telling the truth.

Lotino said during one search at Western Police Station, a male officer entered the room while she was only wearing a bra and panties. In another search, a male officer came in with a pair of scissors and cut the cord of her jogging pants so it could be pulled down easier.

She also complained that her wrists hurt because she was handcuffed tightly when she was transferred to Wanchai Police Station, then back to Western Station.

She said she had spotty bleeding and developed a lump in her left hip after the searches.

The defense said the investigation of the maid began at 1:30am on Jan 3 and finished only at 3:15pm on the same day. The defense lawyer challenged the cautioned statement, saying there were several parts that the defendant disowned.

Lotino said she signed the cautioned statement even if her mind was blank because she was not feeling well. “I told the (Tagalog) interpreter that I was stressed, no sleep because they banged my bed; I felt ashamed because they looked at my private parts. I felt cold, they did not give me proper food and water,” Lotino said sobbing.

She said the investigators let her sign parts of the statement without letting her read them. At one point, she said, the interpreter told her to just write what she dictated.

Before the Filipina took the witness stand, six of the officers she pointed to in the police ID line-up were called in to give evidence. Four of them answered “disagree” or “I can’t recall” when asked the same questions about searching the helper bodily.

Each of them was also asked about the first guideline in the conduct of body searches, and the reply was Level One, meaning a search only of a suspect’s outer clothes.

The investigator, when asked why she did not make a custody search report, admitted she forgot to do it but saw a higher officer prepare the document after the examination.

The magistrate ordered both parties to make written submissions when the hearing resumes on May 16, and extended Lotino’s bail.

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