Marine Veteran Forcibly Stripped In Illinois Jail: Lawsuit

OTTAWA, IL — A federal lawsuit against an Illinois sheriff’s department accuses deputies of falsely arresting a Marine Corps veteran and forcibly stripping her in a jail cell. Surveillance footage shows Zandrea Askew, 28, pleading with three officers who are pinning her down in a cell and undressing her.

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Askew, a former Marine sergeant honorably discharged in 2015, claims two LaSalle County officers walked up to her parked car in the early morning of Jan. 20, 2017 and began questioning her without reason. She was compliant, the lawsuit says, and passed a sobriety test.

Despite that, officers Higgins and Marconi arrested Askew on a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence of drugs and resisting arrest. Her attorney, Terry Ekl, writes in the lawsuit that the officers “had no probable cause” to believe she had committed a crime, and that the charges were later dropped by the LaSalle County State’s Attorney in July 2018 “due to lack of sufficient evidence.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, Higgins and Marconi reported she appeared disoriented at the time and told them she had taken prescription medication.

She was taken to the hospital, but not for any medical reason, the lawsuit alleges. “To the contrary, the sole purpose of taking [Askew] to a hospital was to obtain a blood sample,” the suit says, claiming there was no legal justification to do so.

A recording of Askew’s booking process shows her docile and non-aggressive, though she refused to answer most of the officers’ and deputies’ questions. As she questions an officer’s order to stand up for a pat down, Askew said “but I didn’t do anything wrong.” Eventually, they forced her out of the room.

See the booking video on the Chicago Tribune.

Then, a surveillance camera reportedly recorded three female officers — Kessler, Pitrowski and Vargas — in a cell with Askew. As she continued to peacefully refuse to comply, one of the officers said “All right, you have one chance to cooperate with us, and then we are going to begin taking your clothes off.” Askew seemed not to reply.

They then forced her to the ground, pinning her down while removing her clothes, including undergarments. She pleaded with them, repeating “you’re hurting me” and sobbing.

They used this as a punishment, alleges Ekl, who said it is a “regular and common practice” of the LaSalle Sheriff’s Office, Ekl alleged. They “intentionally and gratuitously humiliated, degraded and dehumanized,” Askew, the lawsuit says.

The officers covered her with a blanket as she lay face down on the floor and left the cell.

According to the lawsuit, it was a de facto policy of the sheriff’s office to forcibly remove clothing from misdemeanor arrestees and leave them in cells to punish and humiliate them.

The lawsuit accuses the officers of violating Askew’s Fourth and 14th Amendment rights, which protect citizens from unreasonable searches and require due process, respectively.

The lawsuit for $1 million accuses the sheriff’s office of unlawful detention, false arrest, excessive force, illegal strip search, violation of due process and other civil rights infringements.

Warning: The video below contains graphic footage:

The LaSalle Sheriff’s Office has not yet responded to an inquiry from Patch.

Photo credits: screenshot of YouTube channel NewsTribune La Salle, IL /// provided by Terry Ekl

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