The Ohio woman who was flagrantly strip searched by a group of male and female deputies in a jail cell, then left naked for six hours, will receive an undisclosed settlement from Stark County.
However, Hope Steffey still has another pending lawsuit against those defendants not employed by the county, including contractors who provide medical and psychological services to the jail – essentially those who determined she needed to be stripped and left naked for her own safety. That case is scheduled to go before the court in October.
The incident – which was videotaped by deputies – occurred in October 2006 after Steffey was involved in some type of altercation with her cousin in which a patch of her hair was pulled out. Another cousin called 911, reporting that Steffey had been assaulted.
But Steffey went from victim to suspect after a Stark County Sheriff deputy arrived on the scene.
Deputy Richard T. Gurlea said Steffey – who was admittedly drunk – was belligerent.
When he asked for her ID, she handed him her deceased sister’s driver license, which she had been carrying in her wallet as a memento. When she realized her mistake, she handed him her real ID and asked for her sister’s ID back. But the deputy refused.
So she became more belligerent.
And he responded with violence.
The deputy said he pushed Steffey – 5-foot-5, 113 pounds – against his cruiser, took her to the ground when she continued to struggle, placed his knee on her back and handcuffed her, according to his report and testimony.
In her lawsuit, Steffey said Gurlea – 5-foot-11, 230 pounds – slammed her against the car, chipping one of her teeth, then put her facedown over a mud puddle.
According to the lawsuit:
Gurlea suddenly exploded into a rage, and without provocation turned towards Hope and slammed Hope’s face into the cruiser, breaking one of Hope’s teeth. Gurlea then pinned Hope against his cruiser with his pelvic area and said, “are you going to stop?” Gurlea twisted Hope’s arm high up behind her back, causing Hope to react in pain.
Gurlea then picked Hope off the ground and slammed her, face first, into the dirt road, causing Hope’s nose to hit hard against the ground and causing cuts and bruises. Hope’s chest and lungs were jammed into the ground by the entire weight of Gurlea’s body and knees. Blood began streaming down Hope’s face and neck. With his knees in Hope’s back, Gurlea once again asked “are you going to stop, are you going to
Things only got worse from there. Once they arrived at the jail, she was whisked into a room and asked if she had ever thought of harming herself.
The nurse wrote in a jail record that Steffey smelled of alcohol and stated, “You don’t need to know about my mental issues.”
The nurse asked Steffey if she ever had thought about harming herself.
“Sure, I have,” Steffey responded, according to an audio recording enhanced for clarity by the state but still difficult to hear.
“When was the last time you thought about harming yourself in any way?”
“Well, right now’s a good time.”
According to the lawsuit:
Hope’s legs were knocked out from under her and her face was jammed hard into the floor. No warning was given and no words were spoken by Hope’s assailants. Written authorization for the strip search of Hope Steffey, pursuant to law and policy, was never obtained by the Sheriff’s Office or by any of the John or Jane Does.
While policy dictates that male deputies are not allowed to strip search female inmates, Sheriff Timothy Swanson said it was anything but a strip search. He claimed it was simply an attempt to keep her from injuring herself because they believed she was suicidal.
However, policy also dictates that strip searched inmates be given some type of paper outfit which would cover their nakedness but not be strong enough to hang themselves.
Steffey was convicted of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, but that was before the video surfaced. The cousin who allegedly assaulted her was never arrested.