Woman Files Federal Lawsuit Over Naked Pepper Spraying Ordeal At Indiana Jail

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Tabitha Gentry

An Indiana woman is preparing a Federal lawsuit following a March ordeal in which she allegedly was pepper sprayed, stripped and paraded by police through a local jail after being detained on a pair of misdemeanor charges. Video from the incarceration shows the woman was pepper sprayed in her cell and left without clothes for almost an hour before being allowed to wash out her eyes.

An attorney representing Tabitha Gentry, the alleged victim, told local media that Gentry will file the suit next week against officers with the Floyd County, Ind., Sheriff’s Department. She alleges the officers violated her Constitutional rights while she was in their custody.

Gentry, who lives in New Albany, Ind., was brought to the jail in the early hours of March 30 on charges of resisting and disorderly conduct after police responded to a domestic call at a residence. Her attorney, Laura Landenwich, said things escalated quickly once she arrived at the jail.

“Almost immediately upon entering the jail, she’s assaulted by four officers. They grab her around the neck; they grab her body,” Landenwich told WDRB News. “They hold her down. There are two male officers and two female officers and they forcibly remove her pants, her shoes, her underwear and her shirt and bra.”

From the video, Gentry appears to be unruly (she was reportedly very intoxicated when taken into custody), but she does not appear violent. Without an accompanying audio track, the surveillance video doesn’t reveal what Gentry said that prompted the team of officers to throw her to the floor and drag her into a padded cell, strip her of her clothing and leave her naked and begging for something to wear.

Landenwich said Gentry attempted to escalate her demands for clothing by banging on the cell door, and that officers responded by pepper spraying her and leaving her alone in the cell for another 45 minutes before allowing her to wash the spray from her face. After she finally was provided an opportunity to clean herself up, she was placed back in the cell for another five hours.

“There is no justifiable law enforcement purpose to treating someone this way,” Landenwich told WAVE News. “There is no officer safety issue that is implicated by her having clothing. What this is, is humiliation.”

There was a standard-issue smock in the padded cell. At one point, the video shows Gentry draped in the loose cover. Isn’t that “clothing?” Doesn’t the smock ensure detainees’ Constitutional rights remain intact?

Maybe, but Landenwich insinuates that this incident reflects a larger pattern of detainee abuse by the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department. In a similar case last year involving one of Gentry’s relatives at the Floyd County jail, the county ended up settling with a plaintiff who alleged officers had withheld clothing in order to humiliate her. And she points out an obvious, but overlooked, fact: Detainees aren’t convicts. Unless and until they’re found guilty of crimes, treatment of the kind that Gentry allegedly received amounts to a form of punishment.

“Now this is a woman, who under our system of law, is innocent until proven guilty,” Landenwich said. “She’s charged, and she’s charged with a misdemeanor crime that’s not a violent crime…What we also see on the video is, there is another inmate also being held naked prior to her entering that cell. These are egregious Constitutional violations.”

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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