Disturbing video shows four deputies, three of them men, pulling a woman, arrested on suspicion of being drunk, to the floor, carrying her to a cell, then forcibly stripping her and leaving her naked, crying. The video depicts Dana Holmes, 33, being searched upright by a female officer before being violently pulled to the ground, then taken away. Surveillance video shows that after she was taken to the cell, she was put face down and held there by some of the officers while another removed all of her clothing.
“There was no excuse or anything to give them a reason to put their hands on me,” said Dana Holmes, who filed a federal lawsuit against LaSalle County authorities Monday. “I was just scared. I didn’t want them to have any reason to come back inside.”
“There’s a lot of people that get DUIs, a lot of people that just make mistakes in life,” Holmes said, “That still doesn’t give them a reason to do what they did.”
Holmes’ blood-alcohol level registered at three times the legal limit when she was arrested. A few minutes later, the cell door opened and an officer tossed her a pile of blankets, also known as a “padded suit.” An hour later, deputies processed her. Video shows that during fingerprinting and photographing, Holmes had only a blanket to wrap around her. Several male officers are seen entering the area as Holmes has trouble keeping her blanket one while being fingerprinted.
Deputies reported her being uncooperative and resisting the female officer’s patdown forcing them to use force to remove her clothing. The video tells a different story. She appears physically cooperative as the female deputy lifts each leg momentarily off the ground to search her. Her arms don’t appear to move from touching the wall. The incident report claims she tried kicking them, but the video disputes this alleged attack.
Holmes alleges that the LaSalle County, Chicago Sheriff’s Office and four deputies violated her civil rights and caused her emotional harm by forcibly stripping her naked without legal justification. Her lawyer, Terry Ekl, said he planned to seek a meeting with the LaSalle County state’s attorney to contend the officers committed official misconduct.
“It’s not only a violation of her civil rights. It’s also a crime,” said Ekl.
LaSalle County Sheriff Thomas Templeton said he had not seen the video or the reports, and was not even aware of the incident when questioned by reporters. In the written incident report sheriff’s officers filed, they said Holmes was uncooperative. She was informed she would remain in the padded cell “until she sobers up and was willing to cooperate,” according to the report. Sheriff’s officers did not note any justification for the search or any suspicion she may have had contraband. She had already been searched by ‘pat down’ by arresting officers.
Attorney Terry Ekl says Holmes was dehumanized and degraded by the strip-search, which he pointed out violated a state law. Under Illinois law, a strip-search is permitted only when officers have a “reasonable belief” that the subject is hiding a weapon or a controlled substance on their body. The law also requires that the strip-search be done by an officer of the same sex and cannot be observed by any not doing the searching.
“There are on-duty deputy sheriffs humiliating and groping a female inmate. It makes you wonder: Were these guys ever trained?” Ekl said.
An expert on criminal procedure said it was hard to see what legal justification sheriff’s officers may have believed they had, “Nothing in the statute says resisting arrest is justification for a strip-search,” Len Cavise, a criminal law professor at DePaul University told the Chicago Tribune.
Police officers spotted Holmes’ vehicle at about 10:50 pm on May 18th. Her 2008 silver Ford Focus was speeding, according to the arrest report. The officer noted that she apologized for speeding and was not familiar with the area. She told the officer she had just attended a wedding. On the video and audio recording from the police car’s camera, Holmes appeared to be cooperative as she failed a field sobriety test and was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. She had volunteered to take the breath test, which registered at 0.226. The DUI report filed two days later said Holmes was “confused” about her car being impounded, but otherwise did not make any other note of demeanor. After Holmes was released from jail on May 19th, Officers said that the arresting officer had told them that she was “mouthy and causing problems.” Holmes pled guilty in May to DUI and received probation.
Court rulings and prevailing policy varies over strip searches and their application (i.e. whether applied to everyone or just through reasonable suspicion, but generally not over specifics like the sex of the officers must be the same and it must be privately done.) In 2012, a Supreme Court ruling stated that officials could strip-search anyone they arrest for any offense, no matter how minor, as a matter of security. The case was brought by Albert Florence who had been wrongfully arrested and was strip-searched twice during his time incarcerated.
“It made me feel less than a man,” Florence said.
“Every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed,” Justice Kennedy wrote, adding that about 13 million people are admitted each year to the nation’s jails. However, at least 10 states disagree with the ruling in some ways and it is even at odds with federal policy. According to the American Bar Association, international human rights treaties that the U.S. has signed also ban this procedure. Federal appeals courts were split on this question though most prohibited the search unless there was reasonable suspicion of contraband.
Keep in mind that the Supreme Court did not say that strip searches of every new arrestee were required; it ruled, rather, that the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches does not forbid them. Even Justice Thomas referenced this saying that exceptions to the ruling were still possible “to ensure that we do ‘not embarrass the future.’”
American Correctional Association welcomed the new flexibility, but currently do not agree with blanket strip searches. Justice Kennedy said that strict policies deter people entering jails from even trying to smuggle contraband. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined all of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion, and Justice Clarence Thomas joined most of it. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Justice Breyer’s dissent.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the four dissenters, said the strip searches the majority allowed were “a serious affront to human dignity and to individual privacy” and should be used only when there was good reason. Justice Breyer said that the Fourth Amendment should be understood to bar strip searches of people arrested for minor offenses not involving drugs or violence, unless officials had a reasonable suspicion. He went on to say that people have been subjected to “the humiliation of a visual strip search” after being arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal and riding a bicycle without an audible bell. In one case, a nun was strip searched for trespassing during an anti-war protest.
Justice Kennedy responded, “People detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.” He noted Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber was first arrested for driving without a license plate before it was discovered he was the terrorist and that one of the 9/11 terrorists was arrested two days before the attack for speeding. He also wrote that the “undoubted security imperatives involved in jail supervision override…” any individual concerns. Justice Kennedy said one person arrested for disorderly conduct in Washington State “managed to hide a lighter, tobacco, tattoo needles and other prohibited items in his rectal cavity.” Officials in San Francisco, he added, “have discovered contraband hidden in body cavities of people arrested for trespassing, public nuisance and shoplifting.”
Justice Breyer wrote that there was very little empirical support for the idea that strip searches detect contraband that would not have been found had jail officials used less intrusive means. For instance, in a study of 23,000 people admitted to a correctional facility in Orange County, N.Y., there was at most one instance of contraband detected that would not otherwise have been found, Judge Breyer wrote.
A slew of recent court rulings support a blanket strip search policy, such as courts in Atlanta, San Francisco, and Philadelphia on the other hand, other states, such as Illinois do not and at least 7 appeals courts have ruled in the past that strip searches are only proper if they are based on a “reasonable suspicion.”