Ill. county stands behind COs sued for stripping woman

Officials said county jail guards who stripped a woman arrested for drunken driving did nothing wrong in the video-recorded May incident

By David Heinzmann
Chicago Tribune

LA SALLE COUNTY, Ill. — LaSalle County officials said Thursday that county jail guards who stripped a woman arrested for drunken driving did nothing wrong in the video-recorded May incident, commenting for the first time after hiring a lawyer to defend the county against the woman's federal lawsuit.

Although jail surveillance video shows three male guards and a female guard carrying Dana Holmes into a cell, stripping off all of her clothes and then leaving her naked, the county's new attorney James Sotos sought to cast the incident in a different light.

"Dana Holmes WAS NOT strip-searched and left naked in a cell. She was placed in a padded cell so she would calm down after twice kicking at a female officer," the statement said. "Jail practice requires that inmates in padded cells be provided tear-proof safe suits in place of their street clothes for their own protection. Illinois and federal law fully support policies given the prevalence of inmates who try to harm themselves in jail facilities."

In the video, Holmes, who had been arrested earlier that night in nearby Marseilles, is seen complying with commands from jail guards — removing her jewelry and placing it on a table and then spreading her limbs against a wall for a pat-down. A female guard raised Holmes' left foot to inspect it without incident. When she raised Holmes' right foot, Holmes' leg moved. Holmes kept her hands on the wall during the commotion but officers immediately forced her to the floor, then carried her to an adjacent cell and stripped her naked. When she was photographed and fingerprinted an hour later, she was clothed only in a blanket wrapped around her naked body.

Holmes filed a lawsuit Oct. 1 alleging that the guards stripped her without justification. State law requires strip-searches to be done by members of the same sex, and justifies them only when authorities have reason to believe that the detainee is hiding a weapon or drugs.

LaSalle County's decision to hire Sotos could prove uncomfortable for the attorneys in the case. Sotos and Holmes' attorney, Terry Ekl, are close friends who have worked together on numerous cases. Ekl's niece is an attorney with Sotos' firm, and her name appeared on the letterhead of Thursday's news release lambasting the suit filed by her uncle.

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