Excessive force: A cost of doing business or a problem in local jails?

Outrageous conduct? The video below[i] shows four LaSalle County Sheriffs officers stripped the accused, Dana Holmes, naked and left her like that in the cell following a DUI arrest. Holmes’ attorney says the elements required to perform a legal strip search were not present in this instance.  Woman Sues LaSalle County After Strip Search in DUI Arrest Source.

Woman Sues LaSalle County After Strip Search in DUI Arrest

Woman Sues LaSalle County After Strip Search in DUI Arrest

In response to a civil lawsuit Holmes filed against La Salle County, officials commented and clearly stand behind the conduct of their jail guards, and that, “did nothing wrong in the video-recorded May incident.[ii]” The attorney representing Holmes comments on the suit: “This wasn’t a search. They just stripped her,” Holmes’ lawyer, Terry Ekl, said. “To do a strip search you need to have reasonable grounds to believe she either has a weapon on her or she’s secreting drugs. That didn’t exist here.”

Another recent incident was caught by video camera in Skokie, and in this case the injured woman who says she needed reconstructive surgery, sued for injuries after her head was shoved into a wall.

Woman sues Skokie Police, alleges cop threw her into concrete bench

Woman sues Skokie Police, alleges cop threw her into concrete bench

Was there a reason for the Skokie Police needed to shove Cassandra Feuerstein head first into a jail cell? The blood on the cell floor and medical attention response is telling. Feuerstein, arrested for DUI, appears, in the video, to cooperate despite her being shoved to her fall in the holding cell. Click/Tap here for a link to the video embedded in the Chicago Trib Local article.

Police officers and staff are trusted public servants and departments of internal affairs frequently investigate claims of excessive force and abuse of custodians of local jails. The Chicago Tribune article reports the police stated, “Feuerstein ‘knowingly resisted…in that she pulled away from (the officer) and placed both her hands on the sides of the cell door all in an attempt to not be placed in the holding cell.’[iii]” Do you think the male officer’s response was appropriate, if the above statement by the police is true?

Even closer to home, the City of Naperville settled an excessive force lawsuit for $435,000[iv]. Municipalities often consider settlements of excessive force cases a “business decision.” Such was the statement by Jill Pelka-Wilger, Naperville’s assistant legal director. The incident took place in Cook County which Pelka-Wilger stated, are “notorious for unpredictable jury awards.” A similar incident resulted in a $2 million award, and the settlement and reduced exposure may be more affordable to municipal police departments.

Cameras taking pictures and video of police conduct are increasingly common and knowing the eyes are upon you may have an effect on short-fused officers.

Nicole Sartori, principal of the Fox Valley Law Center, Ltd. offered the following comments in response to recent news involving cameras and police conduct: “As a criminal defense attorney, I love videos in DUI cases. It does not matter if they are from the squad car or the booking room. The video represents the most unbiased piece of evidence in a case. Although they are not required, they certainly are helpful. Police officers tend to only highlight the negative aspects of the client’s behavior in their reports. Clients tend to focus on the positive aspects in their interview with you or their testimony at hearing or trial. Plus, you may have difficulty believing their account due to the consumption of alcohol they admit to consuming. But, the video speaks for itself. This is true whether it is used as evidence of intoxication or impairment of the client or civil rights violations by police brutality or excessive force. Both articles here illustrate that when the cameras are rolling everyone must be held accountable for their actions. It does not matter whether you are in a smaller, rural county such as LaSalle or more wealthy suburban district like Skokie. If you believe you were mistreated or abused during your arrest, you need to let your defense attorney know right away. They should file motions to preserve the video so that the evidence is not erased, deleted or mysteriously gone by the first court date.”

“Jurisdictions such as Kendall County and Kane County have been focused on collecting the DUI technology fee in sentencing orders from defendants that are sentenced for DUI. If those fees mean more videos, I am all for them.” Nicole Sartori.

To learn more about legal issues that affect Chicago area families in the west suburbs, you can “Like” the Fox Valley Law Center Ltd., on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter. For more information please visit www.FoxValleyLawCenter.com.

[i] NBC5 Chicago: Woman Sues La Salle County After Strip Search in DUI Arrest. By Staff, Oct. 1, 2013.

[ii] Chicago Tribune: La Salle County stands behind jail guards sued for stripping woman. By David Heinzmann, Oct. 10, 2013.

[iii] Chicago Trib Local Evanston & Skokie: Woman sues Skokie and officer, citing injury after DUI arrest. By Juan Perez Jr., Oct. 10, 2013.

[iv] Daily Herald. Naperville settles excessive force lawsuit for $435,000. By Jake Griffin, Sept. 16, 2013.


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