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"Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me."

Judicial Exoneration of Police Misconduct
 
Hope Steffey had been badly beaten in a fight with a cousin, and another cousin summoned help with a 911 call to which a sheriff's deputy responded.  The distraught Steffey never imagined that she would be body-slammed by the sheriff's deputy, arrested, and left naked in jail for six hours after being brutally strip searched by a group of male and female deputies.  Steffey's ordeal would have gone unnoticed by the public were it not for the media coverage by WKYC-TV, an NBC news affilliate serving northeast Ohio.  Moreover, Steffey never expected the deputies responsible for her degrading treatment to be cleared of all criminal misconduct.
 

Hope Steffey's ‘Abu Ghraib’ Treatment at the Stark County Jail
 
SCHUYLER EBBETS
 
February 22, 2008
 

The video obtained by Hope Steffey's lawyer and released to the public represents only a fraction of Steffey's actual torture by the Stark County sheriff's department in Ohio. The video is difficult to watch, but it's very important for Americans to know that this outrageous crime has taken place in their country. The legal outcome of this case could determine what kind of country the United States becomes. If this level of injustice and brutality towards citizens by their own law enforcement agencies and legal system is condoned and not corrected, the real possibility exists that all Americans could be subjected to humiliating and painful torture.






Hope Steffey's near fatal journey into depravity began on the evening of October 20, 2006, when she was assaulted by her cousin, Leann Preston, while she was at the cousin's home in East Canton, Ohio. Steffey's second cousin, who was also present, reported the incident to the Stark County Sheriff's Department with a 911 call for help. Sheriff's deputy Richard T. Gurlea was dispatched to the scene of the assault. When Gurlea arrived he asked Steffey for her identification. She mistakenly gave Gurlea her deceased sister's driver's license, which she had been keeping in her wallet with her own license as a personal memento of her sister. Steffey immediately realized her mistake and asked deputy Gurlea to return her sister's license, but he refused. Steffey handed Gurlea her own license and explained that the identification was her deceased sister's license. While Gurlea ran a computer check on Steffey, she pleaded with him for the return of her sister's license, but he still refused.

Steffey's other cousin, Trinette Zorger, who was present when Gurlea arrived, noticed a bald spot about the size of a quarter on her head. Leanne had torn out a hand-full of Steffey's hair, and it was lying in a clump on the ground. Trinette told Gurlea that Steffey had been the victim of Leanne's assault. Although Steffey was injured, Gurlea did not call for medical assistance. Steffey was extremely upset by the assault, and Gurlea warned her to calm down. She responded that she was angry and could exercise her freedom of speech. Trinette reminded Gurlea that Steffey had just been assaulted, which was the reason the Sheriff's Department had been called in the first place. Trinette further explained that Leanne had literally knocked Steffey unconscious, and that she was uncharacteristically loud and angry for this reason. Gurlea would not acknowledge Steffey's injuries, and he seemed to ignore what she and Trinette told him, treating Steffey as a criminal rather than a victim.

Gurlea ordered Steffey to stand by his cruiser. She tried to speak to him, but Gurlea ordered her to remain silent. Once again Steffey attempted to explain that she desperately wanted her deceased sister's license returned. Gurlea angrily responded, "Shut up about your dead sister." Steffey poked at Gurlea's shirt pocket, where he had put her sister's license, and said, "She was here, she was someone." Whereupon Gurlea exploded in a rage, seized Steffey and slammed her face down onto the hood of his police cruiser, cracking one of her teeth. He pinned her against the cruiser with his pelvic area while mashing her face against the hood of the car and said, "Are you going to stop?" Before Steffey could speak, Gurlea twisted her arm high up behind her back, nearly breaking it. He then picked the 125-pound woman up off the ground and slammed her face-first into the dirt road, smashing her nose and causing numerous bruises and abrasions. Gurlea then leapt into the air and landed on top of Steffey's back, his body weight pounding the air out of her lungs. With his knee in her back, Gurlea once again exclaimed, "Are you going to stop?"

Blood ran from Steffey's nose. It flowed down over her mouth and chin and dripped onto the dirt road. She lay face down, unable to move and unable to breathe. Steffey was suffocating under Deputy Gurlea's weight. He was killing her, inducing asphyxia. Her cousin, Trinette, saw the look on Steffey's face, and screamed at Gurlea: "She can't breathe, let her go, you're hurting her!" Only then did Gurlea climb off Steffey. She had only taken a few shallow breaths when the deputy yanked her back onto her feet, the blood from her nose streaming down her face and neck. Gurlea pulled her arms behind her back, put handcuffs on her, shoved her into the back of his patrol car, and called for backup.

Bruised and bleeding, Hope Steffey, was carted off to the Stark County Sheriff's office and jail to answer questions. Upon their arrival, Gurlea left Steffey in his cruiser while he spoke with another deputy. It isn’t known what Gurlea said to the other deputy. However, he returned to the patrol car and told Steffey to do exactly what the Sheriff's staff said she should do, and that she would probably be going home that evening.

Individuals employed by the Stark County Sheriff's Department and its Jail Division — along with sheriff's deputies — marched Steffey into a small room and had her face the wall. There were approximately seven deputies, at least two males and four or more females, who surrounded her. Steffey was asked if she had any weapons or sharp objects. She answered "No" and was led to a prison cell. Steffey was then told to stand on a line, face the front wall and answer a nurse's questions. She was asked: "Have you thought of harming yourself?" Steffey replied, "Now or ever?" She then heard one of the sheriff's deputies beside her say something, and as she turned to look at that person, her legs were knocked out from under her, and she was driven face down onto the concrete floor.

The force used by the sheriff's deputies seemed designed to inflict pain and to punish. While she lay on the floor dazed and helpless, someone grabbed the hair on the back of her head and pushed her face down to the floor. Someone else kneeled on her back while each of her arms was held by a third and fourth person, and others held her legs and ankles. No warning was ever given by her assailants. Steffey realized that, without giving consent, she was being physically violated. Her clothes were stripped off her body, her jeans were forcibly removed, and her underwear and bra were forcibly removed. Steffey felt as though she was being raped. She pleaded with the men and women deputies to stop and asked them why they were doing this, but they ignored her.

After they had removed Steffey's clothes, the women deputies were given a signal by one of the male deputies to leave the cell. Steffey lay naked, face down, diagonally across the eight-inch-high concrete sleeping platform that was partially covered by a blanket. A male deputy held Steffey's left arm behind her back, forcing her down on the platform, but she pushed herself up on her right hand to see the men standing around her. The video shows her screaming in pain and fear [1].

To my knowledge the Steffey's are not claiming that there was a cavity search conducted by male sheriff's deputies, which would make this more similar to rape. During his television interview, her husband, Greg Steffey, a high-school educator, said that his wife "felt like she had been raped without penetration." Clearly, Hope Steffey had been deeply traumatized. It is uncertain whether all of the facts concerning exactly what happened to her in the Stark County jail will ever be known by the public.

Here is where sheriff's deputies violated their own regulations.

According to Ohio State Code 2933.32, "A body cavity search or strip search shall be conducted by a person or persons who are of the same sex as the person who is being searched, and the search shall be conducted in a manner and in a location that permits only the person or persons who are physically conducting the search and the person who is being searched to observe the search." [2]

Hope Steffey has a legal right to sue the State of Ohio.

"If a person is subjected to a body cavity search or strip search in violation of [Ohio State Code 2933.32], any person may commence a civil action to recover compensatory damages for any injury, death, or loss to person or property or any indignity arising from the violation. In the civil action, the court may award punitive damages to the plaintiffs if they prevail in the action, and it may award reasonable attorney's fees to the parties who prevail in the action." [2]

After the male deputies tired of torturing her, Steffey describes being rolled onto her stomach and handcuffed. One foot was placed on top of the other, and her legs were folded back painfully. Steffey says she was lifted and carried into another cell by male sheriff's deputies, who tossed her nude body onto the concrete floor. She was left alone, covered with bruises and abrasions, injured and naked. She tried to cover her private parts with toilet paper to prevent male sheriff's deputies from seeing her when they peered into the cell. Eventually, Stefffey was told by a guard that she was being charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

During her six-hour imprisonment, Steffey was never given any medical care by the nurse at the jail. Instead, she was treated with dehumanizing indifference. Sheriff's deputies may have known that Steffey had been seriously injured during the assault by Gurlea, but it apparently didn't matter to them. She was not permitted to make a phone call to a lawyer or a family member. To further humiliate her, Steffey was given only a sleeveless vest to wear when she was taken to booking, and she was forced to remain naked from the waist down as she was paraded through a police station full of men.

Stark County Sheriff, Tim Swanson [3], stated that Hope Steffey´s clothes were taken away and that she was left naked without even a blanket to cover herself in a cold jail cell for her own safety. Swanson maintains that his deputies are not guilty of any wrongdoing, and that their job is to protect prisoners in their custody. He said his officers did everything by the book. However, according to the Stark County Sheriff department's own policy on strip searches, "The officers conducting the search must be of the same sex as the prisoner." Greg Steffey agrees, saying: "It's common policy everywhere. It's just wrong that they do this to people. She called for help. She asked them for help, not for this."

The reckless actions of Gurlea and the other Stark County sheriff's deputies seem calculated to cause emotional distress and inflict physical harm on Steffey. She sustained a cracked tooth and a serious bulging disc in her lower back. She also suffered extreme emotional trauma. Because of these physical and mental injuries, she may need extensive medical and psychiatric treatment. The mental damage suffered by Steffey has negatively impacted her marriage as well as other aspects of her life.

The actions of Gurlea and the other men and women sheriff's deputies constitute cruel, outrageous and ultimately criminal conduct. Steffey's injuries were sustained as a direct result of policies condoned and implemented by Stark County Sheriff Timothy A. Swanson. He authorized and approved of the conduct by Gurlea and the other deputies under his supervision. Conducted under color of law, those actions deprived Steffey of rights secured by the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Hope Steffey was a strong, vibrant, normal 41-year-old woman when she encountered Stark County sheriff's deputies on October 20, 2006. It was a miracle that her ribs weren't broken and that she didn't suffer a severe concussion when she was body-slammed to the ground. At any time while she was being tortured, Steffey could have gone into shock or died from heart failure. Only by the grace of God did she survive to tell about her ordeal at the Stark County Jail.

Each year in America, about 667 people die while in police custody, and most of those deaths (55%) are homicides perpetrated by state and local law enforcement officers [4]. Hope Steffey could easily have become one of those unfortunate statistics.

What happened to Hope Steffey has happened in other states that have strip-search laws like Ohio's. The use of nudity, humiliation and torture by law inforcement officers clearly represents a breakdown of American morals, values, freedoms, constitutional rights and human rights. The practice of terrorizing and victimizing individuals will only continue unless Americans take appropriate action through their representatives in Washington to adopt rigorous standards of police conduct and impose laws that will hold those in law enforcement and in the legal community fully accountable for their actions.

Endnotes

  1. For a detailed interpretive description of what appears in the video, refer to the original article: Schuyler Ebbets, "Hope Steffey's 'Abu Ghraib' Treatment at the Stark County Jail," February 22, 2008, http://www.thepeoplesvoice.org/cgi-bin/blogs/voices.php/2008/02/22/hope_steffey_s_abu_ghraib_treatment_at_t, accessed 08/30/08.

  2. See: LAW Writer: Ohio Laws and Rules, "2933.32 Body cavity search, strip search - conducting unauthorized search - failure to prepare proper search report," http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/2933.32, accessed 08/31/08.

  3. Stark County Sheriff's Office, Canton Ohio, http://www.sheriff.co.stark.oh.us/, accessed 08/31/08.

  4. Hope Yen, "Study: 2002 Suspects Died in Police Custody Over 3 Years," South Florida Times, March 17, 2008, http://www.sfltimes.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=633&Itemid=100, accessed 08/31/08.
Copyright 2008, Schuyler Ebbets
 



The Ohio Attorney General will Investigate Criminal Wrongdoing in the Hope Steffey Strip-Search Case.





State Charges Dropped in Hope Steffey Case
 
SHADMIA
 
June 20, 2008
 

According to a grand jury, Stark County deputies committed no criminal acts while arresting Hope Steffey two years ago.

Nancy H. Rogers, Ohio attorney general, issued a statement saying that a Stark County grand jury did not hand down any indictments after reviewing the evidence presented by the state's Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation Special Prosecution Sections.

The Steffey case was investigtated by Paul Scarsella, the Chief of the Special Prosecutions Section for the Attorney General's Office, where he manages four attorneys and support staff. He was assisted by Bridget Carty, Public Integrity Unit Coordinator, and an Assistant Attorney General in the Special Prosecutions Section.

The Special prosecutors, Paul Scarsella and Bridget Carty, said the incident, in which male and female deputies forcibly removed Steffey's clothes at the Stark County jail, was a suicide precaution. They said the deputies were only following a medical order given by a doctor on duty to remove her clothes. Though the jail has suicide suits for inmates to wear, prosecutor Scarscella said Steffey was not immediately given one because even the suit was deemed too dangerous for her to have.

The Special prosecutors presented the results of their investigation to the grand jury without interviewing Hope Steffey. They said they were unwilling to interview her with her lawyers present, as she requested. Steffey did, however, appear before the grand jury. The grand jury declined to indict the deputies involved.

Steffey denied that she was suicidal or was given the opportunity to remove her clothes herself. There is no policy that prevents men from removing a female inmate's clothes during a suicide precaution situation. Men are, however, prevented from strip-searching a female inmate.

The findings of this grand jury will have no bearing on the federal lawsuit that Hope Steffey filed on Oct. 2007, accusing Stark County deputies of violating her civil rights by assaulting, strip-searching, and leaving her injured and naked for six hours in a Stark County jail cell. She had to use toilet paper to cover herself. Defendants in the case are Sheriff Timothy A. Swanson, Deputy Sheriff Richard T. Gurlea Jr., one-to-fifteen other "John and Jane Does" employed at the Stark County Jail, and the Stark County commissioners. That case is scheduled to go to trial in December, 2008.

Whether or not the videotape was presented to the state grand jury will probably never be known as the deliberations of grand juries are held in secret. But it is certain to be part of the civil case to be heard in federal court. Steffey's attorneys are now under federal court order to not discuss the case. But they have argued that the force used by deputies, and seen on the videotape, was brutal and unnecessary.





The Grand Jury Clears Sheriff's Deputies of Any Criminal Wrongdoing in the Hope Steffey Case



Videos Copyright 2008, WKYC.com
 

 
Text adapted from: (1) thepeoplesvoice.org, February 22, 2008, http://www.thepeoplesvoice.org/cgi-bin/blogs/voices.php/2008/02/22/hope_steffey_s_abu_ghraib_treatment_at_t, accessed 08/30/08; and (2) Shadmia's World, June 20, 2008, http://shadmia.com/2008/06/20/state-charges-dropped-in-hope-steffey-case/, accessed 08/27/08.  Schuyler Ebbets is retired and lives in Tennessee.  He can be reached at sebbets@comcast.net.  Videos are from WKYC-TV, Cleveland, Ohio, June 6, 2008–June 20, 2008, http://www.wkyc.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=82447, ...storyid=82519, ...storyid=82866, storyid=91761, and ...storyid=91848, accessed 08/30/08.  Reproduced in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.
 


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