Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Police Abuse in USA

Warning, this is a distressing blog post and very information heavy. The following youtube video shows the highly reported and alarming story of Hope Steffey from Salem Ohio USA who sued Stark County Sheriff department and 6 of their deputy's in early 2008 for assault and harassment.

The video does not show the events leading up to it when Hope Steffey called the police for help after an assault at her home and was then arrested herself but does show the worrying scenes in which Hope Steffey was admitted to the cell and strip searched against her will. According to The-Review.com Hope Steffey was not asked to remove her clothes, nor explained why a strip search was needed. She asked them why several times while being forced as shown in the video. There were several male officers present against county policy as well as the video camera. As the tape progresses you can see how Hope gets more and more distressed by the ordeal.

Not only was she treated appallingly on several counts, abused and humiliated but there are several accounts that she would not have behaved in such a way without the head injury's and trauma from the initial attack, which left her unconscious with patches of hair missing.

Regardless of her innocence police abuse cases like this should not happen. Full stop. I was keen to read up on this story no matter how distressing it is, because her ordeal and others like it is my worst nightmare. The idea of being a) physically held down against my will and b) locked in a cell would be pure hell for me. It seems clear to me that this event was handled very oddly. Why would 8 or more members of staff be ready with gloves and the video camera? Why do half the night shift turn out to watch? And why was she left waiting alone in the cruiser for 5 minutes while the deputy talked privately? And afterwards why hide tapes and evidence from prosecutors and press? And why not give her clothes back after the search?

What worries me the most is that this is one of only who knows how many abuse cases. After doing a bit of research I found 5 other women have so far complained of similar treatment in this county. The bill of rights says you need a warrant to have your home or property searched but basically the police can FORCE a strip search on civilians at any time or place. Even in a public place in view of bystanders or your neighbours, let alone at the station with a disorderly conduct charge.

Compared to the story from Alcart police station where as a result there was 1 firing, 1 resignation and 4 suspensions, in June 2008 it was found by Grand Jury that the Stark County officers did nothing wrong. The event was as a result of precautions against suicide and self harm, and apparently in Hope Steffey's best interests. This was also said of "Elizabeth" another women who was strip searched at Stark County Jail. In November 2008 the sheriff finally spoke to press. I really hope the outrage and negative reaction's of the public to reports in the media as well as blogs and forums on this case and others like it shine some light on the system, I believe it needs a serious re-work to protect people in the custody of American police, the Sheriff and his deputies.

I can only say out of the several times I have been involved in violent crime here in the UK the police officers and their teams have been nothing but supportive, helpful and accommodating. I can only prey that incidents such as this are isolated, dealt with fairly and those responsible are punished accordingly.

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