Sheriff’s Deputies Sexually Assault Woman On Camera

I’m a few days late on this (as I seem to be on everything, lately), but this is also one of those stories that doesn’t seem to get any less outrageous with time. In fact the original story is fifteen months old. A woman is suing an Ohio sheriff’s department over, well, there aren’t really any words:

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.

I only watched at tiny portion of the video, because I find this story to be terrifying and depressing enough without the visual reinforcement. Here is what the sheriff has to say about the lawsuit:

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 [sic] of the events leading up to Steffey’s arrest.

I absolutely agree with him on one point: this was not a strip search. It was sexual assault, plain and simple. There is absolutely no other way to describe holding a woman down on the floor and forcibly tearing off her clothes. This point is further made in a post over at Galling Galla, which you should go read. I have to say that I’m incredibly insulted and upset that it is still being referred to as a “strip search” by everyone, including the victim’s lawyer. Strip searches, though regularly humiliating and dehumanizing, do at least by definition take place for security reasons, peaceably and under a strict set of rules. None of that applies to this situation. This situation is one of extreme power abuse, encouraged by an apparent sense of invincibility. These officers arrested a victim for utterly no reason, ignored her report of violence and refused to grant her medical treatment. Then, seemingly deciding that a woman who has already been physically assaulted is fair game for additional violence, they sexually assaulted her on camera while poorly attempting to pass it off as a routine procedure. To compound the humiliation and violence, they locked her naked in a cell for hours with no indication of when she would be released or even granted clothing.

That women took part in this attack shows yet again that men are not exceedingly more likely to be born as violent, misogynistic and irredeemable human beings, but that authoritarian and violent patriarchal institutions — shockingly enough — promote violence against those perceived as vulnerable. That means, to create a short list, women, people of color, LGBT individuals, sex workers and the poor (and of course these groups aren’t mutually exclusive).

Here’s one of the most terrifying things. Based on video, it looks like Steffey is a white woman. Since she has a husband, we can also assume that she is a straight woman (or bi woman who can “pass” as straight if she so wishes). And based on the lawsuit, she must be a straight white woman who can afford some sort of lawyer, or has connections to those who can, or connections to a lawyer willing to do pro bono work. This means that in the specter of those likely to be taken into police custody, Steffey is going to be pretty high up among the relatively privileged. When police pick a prisoner to assault, the white married woman isn’t likely to be a first target, as she’s more likely to be perceived as capable of causing later repercussions. We know perfectly well that violence against straight white women is routinely ignored, but we also know that it’s less commonly ignored than that against women of color, queer women, disabled women, etc. Hell, police routinely murder black women holding their babies and face no guarantee of consequences for their actions.

And that leaves us (or at least me) with a question: how many other women have been subjected to this kind of sexual assault at the hands of this same sheriff’s department? How long did it take for them to cross a line and attack a woman who both wanted to and was able to get a lawyer? And are we really to believe that this attack — the one they filmed — is as bad as it gets?

0 thoughts on “Sheriff’s Deputies Sexually Assault Woman On Camera

  1. RachelPhilPa

    And are we really to believe that this attack — the one they filmed — is as bad as it gets?

    I know that I don’t. Abner Louima (beaten and raped with a toilet plunger), Amadou Diallo (unarmed immigrant, innocent of any crime, murdered by police; they fired 41 shots at him), Nizah Morris (was found severely injured shortly after being given a “courtesy ride” by police; she died two days later; police have “lost” relevant tapes); and Erica Keel (police did not bother to criminally charge the man who backed his car repeatedly over her, killing her; police demanded the “birth names” of the trans folk of color who were looking for answers) all suffered terribly.

    P.S. Thanks for the shoutout and for putting my blog on your blogroll.

  2. DianeCA

    Oh my God this is a shocking story. I am an American living overseas so I haven’t heard anything about it. I work at the local womens shelter and know what the long term effects of sexual violence can be like for the victim!! The worst part is we count on the ‘boys in blue’ to protect and serve, not assalt and batter!!

  3. Cara Post author

    Honestly, Diane, I’m not incredibly sure that you would have heard about it otherwise. I saw it on Rachel’s blog, and I think with just a link on Shakes, but I can’t remember seeing it anywhere else. It hasn’t gotten much media coverage at all, as far as I can tell.

  4. signthelist

    I’m from Cleveland OH and it’s gotten coverage on the local news channel that “broke” the story. Part 1 and Part 2. But (to my knowledge, anyway) there hasn’t been anything about it in local print media.

  5. Crystal

    I am sad/horrifed at this. Who the hell was videotaping that? I mean, would you videotape it or would you try to end it?? I don’t understand.

  6. Emily

    The video is most likely from a fixed sherriff’s office camera. More and more legislatures are requiring that interrogations, cell extractions, and other things that happen in jail be video-taped. Part of it is to protect prisoners from “testilying” by police. Part of it is to protect the city/county/state from lawsuits by prisoners who make up stories of abuse or who challenge the legal use of force against them.

    Also, for egregious civil rights violations with good evidence, it is possible to get an attorney because civil rights suits include a fee shifting provision. If the sherriff’s office loses the suit, they have to pay her attorney fees in addition to her damages. So if you have a good case, there are attorneys out there who will take it without being paid anything in advance.

  7. John Spragge

    A few years ago, we had an incident like this in Canada (google p4w emergency response team Canada). Apologies ensued, heads rolled, the government speeded up the closure of the prison where the incident took place, and the correctional service at least claimed to have changed.

    I do not know if a lawsuit can obtain the same results in this case: so many people now buy the idea that everyone has to submit to the police. I don’t know what can change this.

  8. John

    It says this post is over a year old, well I have been looking into it that long. Steffey’s lawsuit has been delayed at least 3 times, and as far as I know is set for July.

    There is NO WAY the cops are going to let this go to a trial. Or EVERYONE would KNOW this was all a BS arrest and ‘suicide prevention’.

    Theres just TOO many conflicting versions, TOO much evidence “missing”, a MONTHS long “investigation” that leaves too many questions, and too many illogical explanations for everything that was done.

  9. John

    Heres just SOME of what I have found:

    This is the BCI report that Agent Christy S. Palmer sent to John D. Ferrero, Prosecuting Attorney Stark County Ohio.
    Dated April 16, 2008 BCI Case #: SI-76-08-14-0147

    This is part of page 3

    Sheriff Swanson has ALWAYS maintained that Steffey was ASKED & REFUSED to remove her cloths.
    But here’s the BCI’s OWN REPORT that PROVES this is a LIE!
    And then they try to explain away their first lie with another lie, about why it was done this way without asking Steffey to do it voluntarily.

    They are trying to say that Steffey was resisting enough that EIGHT people (5 women, 3 men) couldn’t take the chance of ASKING her to remove her cloths, or EVEN TELL HER WHAT WAS GOING ON!!!
    What a crock!!

    I did NOT see any resisting in the video, I saw eight cops parading her to the cell, with her in cuffs.

    In fact EVERY video I have seen she is in cuffs!
    And the ONLY times I have seen her react to the cops is after they have assaulted her or in the process of stripping her naked.

    But apparently catching the sheriff’s dept in a lie isn’t a big deal to our “independent” BCI investigator, Christy Palmer, who seems ready to accept ANY excuse the sheriff’s dept wants to use.

    The report also goes on to say that they lowered Steffey in a slow controlled manner to the floor. Except that Steffey says she was thrown to the floor.
    She also told her husband in a phone call that she thought the cops had broken her nose.
    And she was treated by the nurse for the injury.
    And in page 4 of this report Christy Palmer even states that Steffey reported that her nose was making “crunching noises”.

    So I guess this is proof of a second LIE! (Or third)

    And still Christy Palmer, the “independent investigator” doesn’t think twice about accepting the word of the cops over the VICTIMS in spite of proof.
    BTW, Christy also references a video that she says “proves that she was lowered in a slow controlled manner to the floor”. As far as I know, THIS would have to be on the ‘non-existent’ beginning of the strip video.
    On May 5th when I asked about the “missing” video, I was told it would soon be released.
    Now here again it looks as though it’s referenced…even though they NOW claim it does not exist.
    Interesting. (I have filed a request for this video.)

    This isn’t so much an investigation report as it is a smear campaign against Hope Steffey.

    The cops can polish this turd as much as want, this STILL STINKS!

    BTW I don’t know why they bothered to black out the names of Nurse Coren Lennon and the jail psychologist Thomas Anuszkiewicz, aren’t they PROUD of the work they do?

  10. Pingback: On Police Violence and “Rotten Apples” — The Curvature

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