Hope Steffey's night started with a call to police for help. It ended with her face down, naked, and sobbing on a jail cell floor. Now, the sheriff's deputies from Stark County, Ohio who allegedly used excessive force during a strip search 15 months ago face a federal lawsuit, and recently released video won’t help their case.
Steffey's ordeal with the Stark County sheriff's deputies began after her cousin called 9-1-1 claiming Steffey had been assaulted by another one of their cousins. When a Stark County police officer arrived, he asked to see Steffey's driver's license. But instead of handing over her own ID, she mistakenly turned over her dead sister's license, which she contends she keeps in her wallet as a memento. That's when the situation became complicated.
"Hope was not treated as a victim," her lawyer told WKYC News. "The officer said to her 'shut up about your dead sister.'"
Eventually, Steffey was arrested and taken to the Stark County Jail, charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. But once in custody, her attorney says seven jail workers, male and female, forcibly removed Steffey of all her clothes, including her undergarments, while she lay face down in handcuffs. Local news footage shows Steffey wailing, asking "What are you doing?!?"
"And you have to ask yourself, what was the purpose of the strip search?" said Steffey's lawyer. "What was the necessity of it? This was a disorderly conduct claim."
The lawsuit says that Steffey remained in the cell for six hours and wrapped herself in toilet paper to stay warm. During that time, she was not allowed to use a phone or seek medical assistance for injuries she accrued that night, including a cracked tooth, bulging disc, and bruises.
Although the sheriff's policy requires officers conducting any strip search to be of the same sex, the sheriff contends that the tactic used on Steffey was not actually a strip search. He also questions the validiy of the events leading up to Steffey’s arrest.
Once shown the exclusive video, Steffey’s husband was in disbelief. "You don't treat people like this," he said. "I don't think murderers are treated like this."
This video is from WKYC News, broadcast February 1, 2008