St. Paul woman's lawsuit alleges jail mistreatment

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG
  • Star Tribune
  • February 15, 2012 - 9:26 PM

A St. Paul woman is suing the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, alleging she was strip-searched in front of a naked inmate and exposed to male officers at the county jail.

Amanda L. Johnson, 20, said her night at the jail in September left her angry, distrustful of law enforcement and concerned that her experience might not be an isolated incident.

"I was scared and I was frustrated because I couldn't do anything about it," Johnson said in a recent interview. "I was just following what they were saying."

Ramsey County Sheriff's spokesman Randy Gustafson said he couldn't comment on pending litigation, and he did not have the jail's strip-search policy immediately available.

The lawsuit, which alleges excessive use of force and constitutional rights violations, was filed Wednesday in Ramsey County District Court.

According to the suit, which names Sheriff Matt Bostrom and several other defendants: Johnson was arrested and booked Sept. 5 on a charge of misdemeanor domestic assault. She had been handcuffed and patted down in her clothes at her home. Between the jail and its garage, she was given a second pat-down while clothed.

No drugs, contraband items or weapons were discovered either time, the suit said.

A female correctional officer, named Jane Doe 1 in the suit, pinched Johnson's arm as she was transferred from one cell to another. Johnson asked the officer to loosen her grip and she pulled her arm away when the officer failed to comply. A male officer, John Doe 1, tackled Johnson, causing injury to her face, jaw and mouth, the suit alleges.

After a few hours, Johnson was taken to a room where a naked female inmate was following instructions to squat and spread her buttocks, according to the suit. The room did not have a door. When Johnson was instructed to remove her clothes, she asked a female officer, Jane Doe 2, about being searched in front of the naked inmate. The officer told her not to look, the suit said.

Johnson stripped naked and placed her clothes on the ground. Jane Doe 2 called her derogatory names and pulled her to the ground by her hair because she failed to put her clothes in a bin, according to the suit. Two male officers walked into the room while she was naked.

One of Johnson's attorneys, Phillip Fishman, called the night a "horrific violation of her privacy rights."

"She basically felt totally humiliated," he said.

The suit alleges that Johnson was dragged by her hair to a holding cell while flanked by the two male officers. She wore a gown that didn't close all the way around her.

Johnson said she was thrown into the cell, causing severe bruising to her left hip.

"I was very angry, very uncomfortable," Johnson said, "especially when [the male guards] came in the room. To be honest, I didn't even really know what to think."

Johnson said she was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol while in custody. She spent the night handcuffed in her gown. Another officer arrived Sept. 6 to take her to court and asked why she wasn't in jail-issued clothes, the suit said.

A judge dismissed the charge against Johnson later that morning.

"I was just relieved that it was going to be over with," Johnson said. "I knew I didn't do anything to be treated like that."

The suit asserts that there was no probable cause to strip-search Johnson, that jail policy provides for jail-issued clothing for all inmates and that Johnson's constitutional rights to privacy and to be free from unreasonable search and seizures were violated.

The Ramsey County Board, Undersheriff Ryan O'Neill, who heads the adult detention center, and five officers also are named as defendants.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708

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