By David Heinzmann and Juan Perez Jr.
6:55 AM CDT, October 1, 2013
Dana Holmes was drunk, naked and being recorded on video.
The 33-year-old was facedown on the floor of a LaSalle County jail cell while cameras captured images of her nude body on the facility's video system. Minutes earlier, four deputies — three men and a woman — had pulled her to the ground and carried her into the cell, where they quickly and forcibly stripped Holmes and walked out with her clothes.
"There was no excuse or anything to give them a reason to put their hands on me," said Holmes, who filed a federal lawsuit against LaSalle County authorities Monday. "I was just scared. I didn't want them to have any reason to come back inside."
Holmes, whose blood-alcohol level registered nearly three times the legal limit when she was arrested for drunken driving earlier in the night, said she lay on the floor crying. After a few minutes, the cell door opened, and a deputy tossed in a pile of blankets and what authorities describe as a "padded suit."
More than an hour later, when deputies fingerprinted and photographed Holmes, she was covered only in one of the blankets wrapped around her body, the jail video showed. It was provided to the Tribune by Holmes' attorneys. The images show several male officers entering the room as a still-inebriated Holmes struggles to keep the blanket around her shoulders while being fingerprinted.
Holmes, who lives in Coal City and works at a local convenience store, alleges the LaSalle County sheriff's department and four deputies violated her civil rights after her May arrest and caused her emotional harm by stripping her naked without legal justification for such a search.
Her lawyer, Terry Ekl, said he planned to seek a meeting with the LaSalle County state's attorney to contend the officers committed official misconduct by deliberately strip-searching Holmes without justification.
"It's not only a violation of her civil rights. It's also a crime," said Ekl, who provided the Tribune with copies of the video as well as written reports filed by sheriff's officers and Marseilles police. The lawyer said the video and documents were produced by authorities in court as part of her DUI case.
LaSalle County Sheriff Thomas Templeton said he had not seen the video or the reports, and was not even aware of the incident when the Tribune contacted him. He said the county would be unlikely to comment on an incident involving litigation. In the written incident report sheriff's officers filed, they said Holmes was uncooperative while being searched. She was informed she would remain in the padded cell "until she sobers up and was willing to cooperate and not fight with deputies," according to the report.
Sheriff's officers did not note any justification for removing her clothes, nor did they note any suspicion that she was hiding a weapon or drugs. She had already been searched by Marseilles police officers who arrested her, according to their report. She also was monitored by a female Marseilles officer while she used the bathroom at the police station there.
Under Illinois law, a strip-search is permitted only when officers have a "reasonable belief" that the subject is hiding a weapon or a controlled substance on their body. The law also requires that the strip-search be done by an officer of the same sex as the subject and cannot be observed by people not conducting the search.
An expert on criminal procedure said it was hard to see what legal justification sheriff's officers may have believed they had for a strip-search, regardless of Holmes' demeanor.
"Nothing in the statute says resisting arrest is justification for a strip-search," said Len Cavise, who teaches criminal law at the DePaul University College of Law.
The incident began about 10:50 p.m. May 18, when a Marseilles police officer spotted a 2008 silver Ford Focus speeding through town, according to the arrest report. Holmes was driving. The arresting officer noted that she apologized for speeding and said she was not familiar with the area and had just come from a wedding with her boyfriend, who appeared to be too drunk to drive.
On the video and audio recording from the police car's camera, Holmes appeared to be cooperative as she failed a field sobriety test and was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. She volunteered to take an alcohol breath test, which registered 0.226, far over the 0.08 legal limit. The DUI report filed two days later by the Marseilles officer stated that Holmes "seemed confused" about her car being impounded but otherwise did not describe her demeanor during the car ride to the jail.
But in their report filed a couple of hours after Holmes was released early May 19, sheriff's officers said the Marseilles police officer who arrested and transported her told LaSalle County officials that Holmes was "being mouthy and causing problems."
There is no audio with the jail video, which shows Holmes sitting in a chair as the sheriff's officers take inventory of her jewelry and other personal property. While Holmes is seated, the female officer can be seen leaning close to Holmes, pointing at her.
Ekl said the officers became agitated when they told Holmes they would have to remove her belly ring with pliers and she removed it herself out of fear they would hurt her.
The video shows officers had Holmes, while fully clothed, stand up and spread her limbs as she faced a wall. With the male deputies standing by, the female deputy pats her down. During the search, the female deputy lifts and inspects Holmes' left foot. Then, as she attempts to do the same with the right foot, Holmes' leg moves to the side.
In their incident report, the officers allege that Holmes tried to kick them with both legs during the pat-down.
"I did not kick," Holmes said. "I don't know if I lost my balance or what happened, but I wasn't being combative at all."
After Holmes' right leg moves, the deputies immediately seize her and put her on the floor. They pick her up by the arms and legs and carry her a few steps into a holding cell, described by authorities as a padded cell.
Video from a cell camera shows the officers putting her on the floor and immediately stripping off her shirt, jeans, bra and underpants. Holmes lies facedown naked in the brightly lit room for two minutes — according to the time stamp on the video — before the door opens again and a male guard tosses the linens onto the floor.
Although she soon covered herself with a blanket, Holmes' nude body was exposed again as she got to her feet. She said she had no idea she was being videotaped.
"I just felt helpless and degraded. … I was actually afraid they might come in and try to rape me. I wasn't sure. I just had all kinds of things going on in my head," she said.
Holmes has no complaints about the conduct of the Marseilles police, Ekl said. She pleaded guilty to DUI in July and received probation. Online court records in LaSalle County and neighboring Grundy County, where Holmes lives, show no other arrests.
"There's a lot of people that get DUIs, a lot of people that just make mistakes in life," Holmes said. "That still doesn't give them a reason to do what they did. My dignity is worth more than that, and other people's too."
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