A woman is demanding an apology after she claims she was strip-searched by customs officials. It happened last week, shortly after she and her husband arrived via sailboat during the first leg of their around-the-world voyage. She told Cayman 27 she believes she was singled out unfairly.
“The goal is to sail around the world of course, so that’s what we did,” said American boater LaVonda Like.
She said her around the world voyage on her 44 foot gulf-star sailboat “Faith” was off to a great start until she and her husband’s arrival in the Cayman Islands last week.
“I was already prepared for an inspection, so I had passports, I had my title, I had my registration and they brought the dog on board and searched through everything, and at some point these two ladies, they put on latex gloves and they told me to follow them and then I was given a strip search,” she said.
She told Cayman 27 she was taken into an office at the South terminal.
“I had to lift up my shirt and turn around, and then lift up my skirt and turn around, and I was only wearing a tank top, a little flimsy, like see-through beach skirt, and flip-flops, so it was like you can pretty much see everything anyway. It was not, I don’t even understand why I was made to do that.”
Meanwhile, her husband stayed behind at the boat.
“He did not have to leave the boat, he did not have to undress at all,” she said.
She said she believes it’s discrimination.
“I actually think because I’m African-American woman, that race has something to do it, ” she said. “This is not normal, it is not normal to do a strip search.”
Ms. Like said she kept her composure through the ordeal but never received a straight answer as to why she was ‘singled out’for a strip search.
Now, she is demanding an apology for what she called an unjust search, and for someone to take action.
“I want some disciplinary action, whoever, there needs to be, if this is not protocol, then somebody needs to be fired as well as, I have been very upset by this,” said Ms. Like.
Cayman 27 received a response from Customs minutes before Monday’s newscast.
Customs Deputy Collector Jeff Jackson told Cayman 27 Ms. Like’s allegations are unfounded.
Here’s Customs’ version of the narrative, attributable to Mr. Jackson:
“The vessel arrived from Mexico with two AMERICAN passengers (male & female) on board. Upon questioning of the passengers and reviewing of the necessary clearance documents a decision was made to search the said vessel based on suspicions. It is normal practice/procedures before any suspicious vessel is boarded that all crew or passengers be searched for safety purposes to eliminate or verify any prohibited or restricted items or contraband which maybe in their possession. Customs officers conducted a pat down search of the male on the South Terminal dock and was in view at all times and the female was below deck.
The female was requested to come to the top of the deck but did not comply. After several requests were made, she complied and was removed from the vessel and escorted to the Customs/Immigration South Terminal Office where a search of her person could be conducted in privacy. During the search, the female informed them that she needed to shave and that she was not wearing any bra. After a brisk search officers were satisfied, however, no clothing was removed from her person and this was the extent of the search. The female was not singled out because of ethnicity as she alleged.
Before the initial boarding and search of the vessel commenced the female acted in an arrogant manner and at times made sarcastic remarks when they were attempting to board the vessel. At one point she requested the officers to remove their shoes and attempted to hand them wipes to clean the bottom of their shoes. Officers did not allow this for personal safety as there was no significant reason for this request. During the search knives were removed from the vessel and she stated that she didn’t know it was illegal to have knives on board her boat. Officers explained the knives were removed for their personal safety and they would be returned once the search was completed. The search was concluded without incident and both individuals were thanked for their cooperation.
In ending, please know that entering a Customs control area does not exempt anyone from a search of their belongings or person as every passenger/crew is subject to searches once done in a reasonable and respectable manner. Also, it would be counterproductive for us to disclose the rationale for our various enforcement operations. The Customs Department’s duty is to protect the Cayman Islands’ borders which means the laws and regulations relating to the importation, exportation and transportation of goods or persons, and all other laws and regulations enforced or administered by the Customs Department.”