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Illegal strip search of Marine was ‘terrifying, embarrassing and degrading’: suit

In the video, three LaSalle County Sheriff’s deputies can be seen throwing a woman onto a bench and then onto the floor of a jail cell and forcibly removing her pants as the woman — a Marine Corps veteran — screams loudly.

“What are you doing, what are you doing, what are you doing?” the woman yells in desperation during the strip search, which a newly filed federal lawsuit called “demeaning, dehumanizing, undignified, humiliating, terrifying, embarrassing, and degrading.”

The lawsuit — which seeks more than $1 million in damages — claims the arrest that led to the search and the search itself were illegal. It also alleges deputies knew the actions were taken in error, so they tried to conceal the evidence of their misconduct by deleting a video of what happened.

Zandrea Askew, a 28-year-old woman who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2015, says that she was sitting in her parked car on a street in LaSalle County in the early hours of Jan. 20, 2017. The suit does not identify the city or town where she was picked up.

It was then, she alleges, that two LaSalle County sheriff’s officers approached her and made her perform field sobriety tests, despite her showing no signs of intoxication and having no warrants for her arrest.

After passing the field sobriety tests, she was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence of drugs and was taken to a local hospital, the suit alleges. There deputies tried “to obtain a blood sample” from Askew with no legal justification, the suit says.

Zandrea Askew | Provided photo

All the while, Askew was cooperative and respectful to the deputies, the suit states.

From the hospital, she was taken to the LaSalle County Jail in Ottawa, which is about 80 miles from Chicago. Once there, the suit states, at least three female sheriff’s deputies dragged her into a cell, threw her to the ground and “unreasonably and deliberately attacked and restrained [Askew] causing injury to [her body]” as several more deputies looked on, the suit states.

While she was restrained, three deputies “forcibly and maliciously” strip searched Askew, violently pulling her hair in the process, she alleges. The cell she was in was also equipped with video surveillance.

Four minutes of surveillance footage provided to the Sun-Times shows two deputies leading Askew into a cell and another following close behind.

“You have one chance to cooperate with us and then we are going to be taking your clothes off off of you ourselves,” one deputy can be heard saying on the video.

“Are you going to undress yourself?” the deputy asks. When Askew doesn’t answer, the deputy says: “Don’t just look at me like I’m stupid. I’m asking you a question.”

As Askew faces the cell wall, one deputy suddenly throws her onto a bench and then onto the floor. The deputies can then be seen removing Askew’s pants.

Throughout the incident Askew screams “what are you doing?” several times.

“The Officers’ conduct in stripping Plaintiff of her clothing was intentionally demeaning, dehumanizing, undignified, humiliating, terrifying, embarrassing, and degrading,” the suit states.

andrea Askew was thrown onto a bench and then to the ground before she was strip searched by LaSalle County Sheriff's deputies in January 2017, a lawsuit alleges. | Provided/Screenshot o surveillance video

Zandrea Askew was thrown onto a bench and then to the ground before she was strip searched by LaSalle County Sheriff’s deputies in January 2017, a lawsuit alleges. | Provided/Screenshot o surveillance video screenshot

Later, several unidentified officers and employees of the sheriff’s office “attempted to delete and/or destroy the video recording of the assault and stripping of the Plaintiff,” the suit states. “However, despite these efforts, a restored version of the video was recovered and disclosed to Plaintiff by the LaSalle County State’s Attorney’s Office.”

Askew’s attorney, Terry Ekl, noted in the complaint that Illinois law prohibits law enforcement officers from strip searching suspects arrested for misdemeanor offenses — such as driving under the influence of drugs — “unless there is a reasonable belief that the individual is concealing a weapon or a controlled substance.”

Ekl said the officers “had no reasonable belief” that Askew was hiding a weapon or drugs.

Askew was soon charged with driving under the influence of drugs and resisting arrest. Eighteen months later, the LaSalle County State’s Attorney dismissed both charges and wrote “that there was no probable cause” for Askew’s arrest, the suit states.

The 11-count suit alleges a host of Fourth Amendment violations, including unlawful detention, false arrest, excessive force, violations of due process, failure to intervene and malicious prosecution.

LaSalle County, the sheriff and seven sheriff’s deputies were named as defendants. A representative from the LaSalle County State’s Attorney’s Office, which represents the county in civil litigation, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.