Woman sues LaSalle County over strip-search

Watch Video of Arrest HERE on Chicago Tribune.com

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Dana Holmes was drunk, naked and being recorded on video.

The 33-year-old was facedown on the floor of a LaSalle County jail cell while cameras captured images of her nude body on the facility’s video system. Minutes earlier, four deputies — three men and a woman — had pulled her to the ground and carried her into the cell, where they quickly and forcibly stripped Holmes and walked out with her clothes.

“There was no excuse or anything to give them a reason to put their hands on me,” said 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.

Holmes, whose blood-alcohol level registered nearly three times the legal limit when she was arrested for drunken driving earlier in the night, said she lay on the floor crying. After a few minutes, the cell door opened, and a deputy tossed in a pile of blankets and what authorities describe as a “padded suit.”

More than an hour later, when deputies fingerprinted and photographed Holmes, she was covered only in one of the blankets wrapped around her body, the jail video showed. It was provided to the Tribune by Holmes’ attorneys. The images show several male officers entering the room as a still-inebriated Holmes struggles to keep the blanket around her shoulders while being fingerprinted.

Holmes, who lives in Coal City and works at a local convenience store, alleges the LaSalle County sheriff’s department and four deputies violated her civil rights after her May arrest and caused her emotional harm by stripping her naked without legal justification for such a search.

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 by deliberately strip-searching Holmes without justification.

“It’s not only a violation of her civil rights. It’s also a crime,” said Ekl, who provided the Tribune with copies of the video as well as written reports filed by sheriff’s officers and Marseilles police. The lawyer said the video and documents were produced by authorities in court as part of her DUI case.

LaSalle County Sheriff Thomas Templeton said he had not seen the video or the reports, and was not even aware of the incident when the Tribune contacted him. He said the county would be unlikely to comment on an incident involving litigation. In the written incident report sheriff’s officers filed, they said Holmes was uncooperative while being searched. She was informed she would remain in the padded cell “until she sobers up and was willing to cooperate and not fight with deputies,” according to the report.

Sheriff’s officers did not note any justification for removing her clothes, nor did they note any suspicion that she was hiding a weapon or drugs. She had already been searched by Marseilles police officers who arrested her, according to their report. She also was monitored by a female Marseilles officer while she used the bathroom at the police station there.

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 as the subject and cannot be observed by people not conducting the search.

An expert on criminal procedure said it was hard to see what legal justification sheriff’s officers may have believed they had for a strip-search, regardless of Holmes’ demeanor.

“Nothing in the statute says resisting arrest is justification for a strip-search,” said Len Cavise, who teaches criminal law at the DePaul University College of Law.

The incident began about 10:50 p.m. May 18, when a Marseilles police officer spotted a 2008 silver Ford Focus speeding through town, according to the arrest report. Holmes was driving. The arresting officer noted that she apologized for speeding and said she was not familiar with the area and had just come from a wedding with her boyfriend, who appeared to be too drunk to drive.

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