A new lawsuit accuses the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office in Illinois of forcibly strip- searching a former Marine, then leaving her naked in a jail cell for 12 hours with nothing but a blanket.
Video provided by the plaintiff’s attorney shows 28-year-old Zandrea Askew kicking and screaming after being thrown to the floor by several deputies inside the LaSalle County Jail, Chicago’s ABC 7 reported.
“What are you doing, what are you doing, what are you doing?” Askew yells repeatedly as deputies start to remove her clothes. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Askew’s complaint argues that the arrest that led to the January 2017 search, including the search itself, were illegal and accuses the deputies of trying to cover up their misdeeds by deleting video of the encounter. The incident unfolded after the former sergeant, who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2015, was booked on a DUI charge and resisting arrest.
Those charges were eventually dropped.
According to the suit, Askew was sitting in her car on the night of Jan. 20, 2017, when two LaSalle County deputies approached and made her perform field sobriety tests, which she passed, according to her lawyer. Deputies arrested her anyway, despite Askew showing no signs she was intoxicated.
After being taken to a hospital, where the suit claims deputies tried to “obtain a blood sample” from Askew, the ex-Marine was transported to the county jail in Ottawa. There, at least three sheriff’s deputies dragged Askew into a cell, forced her to the ground and “maliciously” strip-searched her against her will.
“There was no legitimate or necessary law enforcement, safety or penological objective to forcibly stripping [Askew] of her clothing,” the lawsuit states. “The only objective of the officers was to punish, harass, humiliate, degrade, and inflict physical and psychological pain. The officers’ conduct in stripping [Askew] of her clothing was intentionally demeaning, dehumanizing, undignified, humiliating, terrifying, embarrassing and degrading.”
The cell Askew was in was equipped with video surveillance and showed her, moments before, refusing a pat-down search by the deputies.
“You have one chance to cooperate with us and then we are going to be taking your clothes off of you ourselves,” one deputy says on the video obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
After Askew also refuses to undress, one of the deputies suddenly slams her onto a bench and then to the floor. The woman is heard crying in desperation and shouts, “What are you doing?” multiple times as the deputies proceed to remove her clothing.
“This attack and stripping occurred in the presence and/or with the knowledge of other LaSalle County officers,” the lawsuit continues. “None of the officers attempted to stop the vicious attack on [Askew] despite the fact that it occurred over several minutes and [she] was crying out in extreme distress, pain and fear during the attack.”
After deputies are done with their search, Askew is naked. They provide her with a blanket and leave her in the cell, where she remained for the next 12 hours, her attorney Terry Ekl said.
In the complaint, Ekl notes that Illinois law prohibits police from strip-searching suspects accused of misdemeanor offenses, saying the practice is only used where there’s absolute reason to believe the suspect is concealing a weapon or drugs. Ekl said authorities had no reason to believe Askew was doing either.
“They did what they did to her because she wouldn’t answer their questions. Plain and simple,” he told ABC 7, which noted the sheriff’s office was also sued over improper strip-searches of women in 2014, settling the federal suit for hundreds of thousands of dollars. “She was defying their authority. Therefore, they wanted to humiliate her to get her to do what they wanted by ripping her clothes off.”
Despite efforts to destroy the surveillance footage, the lawsuit states that “a restored version of the video was recovered and disclosed to Plaintiff by the LaSalle County State’s Attorney’s Office.”
As reported by the Sun-Times, Askew’s complaint also alleges “a host of Fourth Amendment violations, including unlawful detention, false arrest, excessive force, violations of due process, failure to intervene and malicious prosecution,” and seeks over $1 million in damages.
LaSalle County, Sheriff Thomas Templeton and seven sheriff’s deputies are all named as defendants. A lawyer for the county addressed the lawsuit in a statement Wednesday.
“As this lawsuit was filed late last evening, I’m just now reviewing the allegations contained therein with my clients and will respond after having an adequate chance to review,” it read in part. “At this time, it our intent to vigorously defend our position in federal court.”
Watch more in the video below.