March 28, 2008

Stark County Ohio Sheriff Faces Second Lawsuit Over Treatment Of Another Woman At Jail


Thursday, March 27, 2008
BY Shane Hoover

Stark County Sheriff faces second lawsuit over treatment of woman at jail

Lake Township woman says she was abused; sheriff denies wrongdoing

CANTON Another lawsuit, another denial by the Stark County sheriff, this time of allegations that a second woman was treated poorly at the jail after being deemed suicidal.

The latest charge comes from Valentina Dyshko of Lake Township, who claims jailers forced her to remove her clothes and mistreated her after an arrest two years ago, even though she wasn't suicidal. Her federal lawsuit is the second alleging the violation of Constitutional rights in the treatment of female inmates considered suicide risks.

Sheriff Tim Swanson denies any wrongdoing by his staff. Dyshko made statements that caused jail staff to take suicide precautions, and his office is ready to take this latest case to court, he said.

"We're prepared to go forward with it, as with the other one," Swanson said.

But one of the lawyers representing Dyshko and the other plaintiff said more lawsuits are on the way.

"What we're seeing is a pattern in these cases and a basic disrespect for human decency," said David B. Malik of Chesterland.

DYSHKO'S CLAIM

Dyshko speaks Ukrainian and understands very little English, according to her lawsuit, filed earlier this month in federal court.

On March 10, 2006, she went to the Stark County Jail after receiving a notice from the sheriff concerning a warrant, according to the lawsuit.

The charges, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, were related to Dyshko's home-schooling of her children. They ultimately were dismissed.

After arresting Dyshko on the warrant, sheriff's deputies told her she was suicidal, even though she wasn't, and forced her to strip, the lawsuit says. Until her release three days later, Dyshko claims she had to wear a light, poorly fitting garment that repeatedly fell off her body and was forced to shower in an open area where men saw her.

On one occasion, as Dyshko used the phone, the garment fell off, exposing her body and prompting laughs from male jail staffers, according to the lawsuit.

The sheriff's office also failed to provide a competent interpreter who could speak Ukrainian, and one employee told her "go back to Russia," the lawsuit says.

"How is this justified? It's not," Malik said. "It's excessive, unreasonable and has to stop."

The sheriff tells a different version. A jail nurse interviewed Dyshko through an interpreter who participated in the conversation via telephone, Swanson said. Something Dyshko said during the screening prompted jail staff to take the suicide precautions, which includes removing an inmate's clothing and replacing it with a loose, tear-resistant garment.

The sheriff wouldn't repeat Dyshko's exact words, citing medical privacy, but said the conversation was recorded and a second interpreter confirmed the initial interpretation.

Jailers never made Dyshko shower where she could be seen by men, and if her garment fell off, it was up to her to keep it on, Swanson said.

The sheriff also said he had no personal knowledge of one of his employees telling Dyshko to "go back to Russia."

'GRAIN OF SALT'

Dyshko is the second woman to sue the sheriff over the treatment of potentially suicidal inmates.

Hope Steffey of Salem was the first to sue, claiming that deputies assaulted her, denied her medical help and left her naked in a cell for six hours after her arrest in October 2006. A videotape of Steffey being stripped naked by male and female deputies was featured in a WKYC-Channel 3 news report in January.

The sheriff's office denies any wrongdoing and has asked the Ohio attorney general to investigate.

"I think the press is really jumping the gun and getting completely inaccurate information from the plaintiff's attorneys, and they need to take that information with a huge grain of salt," said James Climer, the lawyer representing the sheriff's office.

Climer declined further comment on either case. Swanson said both plaintiffs are making the allegations for financial gain.

NEW DETAILS

Meanwhile, new details have come out regarding Steffey's arrest.

In her lawsuit, Steffey says she was assaulted by her cousin, then mistakenly gave the deputy her deceased sister's driver's license. Instead of getting medical treatment for Steffey, the deputy slammed her into his cruiser, cracking one of her teeth, and later threw her to the ground, causing cuts and bruises, according to the lawsuit.

In his report, Deputy Richard T. Gurlea Jr. reports a different story.

Gurlea writes that he responded to a Paris Township residence Oct. 21 to investigate an alleged assault on Steffey, but she was highly intoxicated and unable to answer his questions intelligently.

From one of Steffey's relatives, the deputy learned that Steffey had been involved in an altercation with her female cousin. The cousin gave a statement saying the fight started when Steffey, who was drunk, tried to take car keys from her.

As Gurlea tried to investigate further, Steffey started screaming obscenities, the report says.

When asked to provide her driver's license, Steffey pulled out one belonging to her deceased sister and told Gurlea that it was all she had left of her sibling, the report states. Despite warnings that she would be arrested, Steffey continued to be loud and yelled profanities at Gurlea, the report says.

The deputy pushed a resistant Steffey against his cruiser, then pulled her to the ground and handcuffed her, according to the report.

A relative helped calm Steffey, and Gurlea put her in his cruiser. During the ride back to the jail, Steffey appeared to have mood swings, cursing one moment, then becoming tearful and apologetic, Gurlea wrote in his report.

Extra deputies were on hand when Gurlea arrived with Steffey, and she walked into the jail without incident. The report doesn't describe what happened inside the jail, but says prior to Gurlea's departure, jail staff informed him that Steffey's "behavior had again turned, and it was necessary to use physical restraint techniques to gain her compliance."

In her lawsuit, Steffey says when jailers asked her, "Have you thought about harming yourself?" she responded, "Now or ever?" resulting in male and female guards stripping her without giving her a chance to remove her clothes.

A jury later convicted Steffey in Alliance Municipal Court of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest; she received a suspended jail term, court records show. Steffey's lawsuit accuses deputies of charging her to cover up their own actions.

Malik said he and Steffey's other lawyer need to gather more information about her case, including depositions.

"We will be before a jury in these cases, and at that point, you'll see what the result is going to be — in favor of the plaintiffs," Malik said.

Reach Repository writer Shane Hoover at (330) 580-8338 or e-mail:
shane.hoover@cantonrep.com


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