A new class-action civil rights suit against Floyd County, Ind., Sheriff Darrell Mills and his department alleges multiple detainees in the Floyd County Jail were stripped naked, pepper-sprayed and left without clothes or any way to go to the bathroom for hours at a time.

Floyd County Jail footage relating to this case.
Floyd County Jail footage relating to this case.

These arrests were made for misdemeanors, but the punishments given were more typical of those administered by the notorious Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq, says plaintiffs’ attorney Daniel Canon, of the firm Clay Daniel Walton & Adams in Louisville. Canon and colleague Laura E. Landewich are representing the four plaintiffs: Tabitha Gentry, Vincent Minton, Michael Herron and Adam Walker.

The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in New Albany. According to Canon, the problems at the jail could reach far wider than just his four class-action plaintiffs. “This could have happened to potentially hundreds of people,” he says. “I have not heard of this happening anywhere else in the U.S. We don’t treat prisoners of war this way.”

The video — originally aired on WHAS — shows some of the alleged abuses against Tabitha Gentry.

The complaint alleges plaintiffs were forcibly stripped and kept undressed for hours at at time, pepper sprayed, tasered, and subjected to other means of excessive force that are “tantamount to torture.”

Here are the allegations in Gentry’s case: On March 30, 2014, Gentry, a 32-year-old mother of four, was arrested at 4 a.m. on suspicion of public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and resisting law enforcement, all misdemeanors. She was brought to the Floyd County Jail.

While waiting to be booked she had a verbal altercation with three officers. She was put on a bench and cuffed behind her back. Then her jail-booking stopped, at which point three officers allegedly led her to a padded cell, where she was forced to the floor and stripped.

As they stripped her they also threatened to tase her, the complaint alleges. At 4:15 a.m. she was left alone, naked, in the cell, with only a small blanket. Twenty minutes later she banged on the cell door and asked for clothing. She was told to “shut up” by an officer, lest he pepper spray her. Which he did at 5:12 a.m. She was reportedly stuck in the padded cell with the spray for 40 minutes.

The allegations continue: To wash her off she was walked down a hallway, still naked, with just the a small smock to cover her, and led back to the cell at 6:20 a.m., where she remained for five hours. There was no toilet in the cell, and she was instructed to urinate in a small drain in the floor. She was finally given a jumpsuit at 11 a.m., seven hours after she was arrested.

The other three plaintiffs are all male, but their stories are similar. All were brought in for misdemeanors. All were booked, and stripped naked.

One plaintiff, Adam Walker, was allegedly tased seven times by an officer, and choked until he lost consciousness. Walker claims he was left naked in his cell for 18 hours.

Last Sept. 3, 2013, Canon represented another woman, Ashley Storms, who allegedly experienced similar treatment in the Floyd County Jail. The 23-year-old New Albany woman landed in the jail on misdemeanor charges and was stripped after a verbal altercation with officers. During this strip search she pleaded with officers to not rape her, according to court documents.

After being tased, Storms was put on something called “30 minute watch,” where officers checked on her every 30 minutes. She allegedly was left naked in the cell over eight hours.

Storms settled her lawsuit with Floyd County, though Canon would not disclose the terms of the settlement, and Storms could not be reached.

Calls to Floyd County Sheriff Mills were referred to his attorney R. Jeffrey Lowe, who would not comment on the case. Mills has told other media representatives he believes no policies were violated during the Tabitha Gentry detainment.

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David Serchuk
David Serchuk is a staff writer at Insider Louisville. He is a former editor at Forbes.com, and an ex-reporter at Forbes magazine. He's written for NPR, CNBC.com, New York, Pittsburgh, Louisville and other publications named for places. He enjoys writing about business, music and other things as well.

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