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Woman Sues After She's Stripped Naked by Deputies

8:50 AM, Feb 4, 2008   |    comments
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CANTON, OH (WKYC) -- Hope Steffey's night began with a call to police for help. It ended with her face down, completely naked and sobbing on a jail cell floor. Steffey says Stark County sheriff's deputies used excessive force and assaulted her during a strip search 15 months ago, according to a federal lawsuit. Stark County Sheriff Timothy Swanson denies the allegation. Steffey's attorney says her clothes, including her underwear and bra, were stripped from her body by at least seven male and female sheriff's deputies and jail workers. She lay face down in handcuffs at the time. "Hope begged and pleaded with her...assailants to stop," the lawsuit says. "There was no forcible penetration but Hope felt as if she was being raped." The sheriff denies this was a strip search. The sheriff's policy requires officers conducting any strip search to be of the same sex. Her attorney, David Malik, said Steffey, 41, was never asked to voluntarily remove her clothes. In an e-mail, Swanson said Steffey was asked to remove her clothes but refused. He said deputies took them off for her own safety. Swanson declined to comment further, saying the details would come out in court. WKYC-TV, a sister-station of WLTX, obtained exclusive video of Steffey's night in the Stark County jail cell. You can click the link at the on the side of the page to view it. A warning: it is difficult to watch. Steffey declined to be interviewed for this story. But her husband, a high school educator, talked to WKYC-TV. Greg Steffey said his wife is still traumatized. But the couple wants the story told to prevent it from happening to someone else. "This could be your wife or anyone's wife," Greg Steffey said. He said he still can't believe this happened to Hope, a 125-pound woman who, earlier that night, turned to police for help. "You don't treat people like this," Greg Steffey said. "I don't think murderers are treated like this much less people charged with disorderly conduct." Steffey's ordeal with the Stark County Sheriff's deputies began after her cousin called police for help. In a 9-1-1 call, her cousin said Steffey had been assaulted by another cousin. When a Stark County deputy arrived, he asked for Steffey's driver's license. She accidentally turned over her dead sister's license, which she said she keeps in her wallet as a memento, the lawsuit says. The deputy refused to give the license back and told Steffey to "shut up about your dead sister," according to her attorney. The sheriff denied that in a written response to the lawsuit. Eventually, Steffey was arrested and taken to the Stark County Jail. She was later charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. After her clothes were removed, she was locked in a cell. To stay warm, she wrapped herself in toilet paper. She remained in the cell for six hours. During that time, she was not allowed to use a phone or seek medical attention for injuries she suffered that night, including a cracked tooth, bulging disc and bruises, the lawsuit says. The sheriff denies that.

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