Hope Steffey’s ‘Abu Ghraib’ Treatment at the Stark County Jail

When I first read about Hope Steffey’s horrifying ordeal in the Stark County, Ohio Jail, and then saw the video, I was sickened and saddened that this is happening in the United States. The way she was stripped naked and cruelly violated was reminiscent of the treatment people endured in Auschwitz and Abu Ghraib. I wondered, is this who we have become?

After the female sheriffs deputies helped the male deputies to strip Hope Steffey completely naked they exited the cell leaving two or perhaps three male deputies alone with Hope. The men were wearing rubber gloves. One held Hope down on her stomach by twisting one of her arms behind her back, a hold which can be used to exert excruciating agony until one’s arm breaks. The other big burly cop wearing rubber gloves brutally twisted Hope’s feet wrenching her legs apart. Because of the blur spot it isn’t sertain as to what the cop was doing to her with his right hand. What ever it was She screamed. It was a primal, guttural scream, the sound of shear terror, and pain. For those of you who are not familiar with this case watch the video.

Hope Steffey’s hellish experience began with a 9-1-1 call to the Stark County, Ohio police by one of her cousins. A handful of her hair had been ripped out and she had been knocked unconscious. The assault left her dazed and bleeding from a cut on her nose. When the police arrived, Hope accidentally handed the officer her deceased sister’s driver’s license instead of her own. She immediately realized her mistake and handed her own license to Officer Gurlea, explaining that she kept her sisters license for sentimental reasons. Seeing no response from Officer Gurlea, Hope asked him directly, to return her dead sisters license. Officer Gurlea ignored her, and instead ran a check on Hope Steffey´s license. Although no infractions were found he continued to treat Hope as though she were the perpetrator of a crime, rather than the victim of an assault.

Stills from a video of Steffey's ordealHope said she begged Officer Gurlea to return her sister’s license, but her pleading only angered him. Officer Gurlea shouted, “Shut up about your dead sister.” Hope bravely or perhaps foolishly, pointed at the officer’s shirt pocket where he had placed her sister’s license, and said, “she was here, she was someone”.

In a ‘police state’ or a country where the police have been given an inordinately large amount of power such as America, one cannot safely question the authority of the police. To question their authority, no matter how arbitrary or unfair it is, can in itself be considered a criminal offence, as it was in Hope Steffey’s case, and can easily result in extreme humiliation, injury, or even death for the individual.

Officer Gurlea grabbed Hope Steffey and slammed her face down onto the hood of his patrol car, chipping one of her teeth and giving her a bloody lip. Officer Gurlea then twisted Hope’s arms behind her back and placed handcuffs on her and put her in the back of his patrol car. During this second assault by Officer Gurlea, Hope Steffey’s cousin repeatedly tried to tell the officer, at the risk of her own arrest, that Hope was the victim, that she had been assaulted and knocked unconscious, but Officer Gurlea ignored her.

The injured, bleeding, and innocent Hope Steffey, was then hauled off to the Stark County jail to answer questions, among them “do you have any sharp objects” and “have you thought about harming yourself?” When Hope responded by asking, “now or ever?” Sheriff’s deputies immediately knocked her to the ground and twisted her legs into a painful pretzel position. They dragged her into a prison cell where seven men and women deputies forcibly removed her clothing which caused an injury to her back.

Then what happened can only be described as a brutal and horrific rape which was carried out over a span of perhaps minutes or hours. One man held Hope face down with her arm twisted behind her back while the other repeatedly penetrated her with his fingers.

After this nightmarish assault she was left in the cell completely naked for 6 hours. Hope tried to cover her private parts with toilet paper so that male officers peering into he cell couldn’t see her naked.

Hope Steffey was never given any kind of medical attention for her numerous injuries and was not allowed to make her, ‘one phone call’, something that used to be a legal right in America. When she was later taken to booking, for some perverse reason, she was only given a sleeveless vest to wear, and remained naked from the waste down as she was paraded through a police station full of men. Amazingly she was then charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Stark County Sheriff Tim Swanson, later said the reason Hope Steffey´s clothes and panties were taken away and she was left naked in a cell, was for her own safety. Sheriff Swanson maintains that his deputies are not guilty of any wrongdoing and that their job is to protect prisoners in their custody. This statement borders on absurdity because Sheriff Swanson’s deputies had repeatedly assaulted and injured Hope Steffey, psychologically traumatizing her for life.

The purposefully dehumanizing method of stripping defenseless men and women prisoners naked was practiced by the Nazis in the concentration camps and more recently by the United States government in the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison. It was decided by Rumsfeld, and others in the Bush administration, that illegal and degrading forms of torture would be employed against Iraqi civilians to break their will and facilitate the wholesale theft of Iraq’s oil.

This new willingness by the United States government to commit war crimes and violate virtually every one of the Geneva Conventions through the use of torture and murder of civilians on a grand scale has set the worst possible example for freedom and democracy, both abroad and within the United States itself.

Although Bush and members of his administration have been charged with war crimes by courts outside the United States, their monstrous actions have been championed and embraced by the corporate American media. This has been a tremendous tragedy for the American people. Had the media condemned the crimes of the Bush administration, their abhorrent policies would never have been accepted and adopted by Civilian law enforcement in America.

What happened to Hope Steffey represents a much greater systemic breakdown in American morals, freedoms, and standards. The police no longer protect and serve the people as they once did. The police now reflect the will and values of a government run by war criminals. And like the government, the police now have very little respect for Constitutional rights and human rights.

Hope dared to speak up for herself, she was not afraid enough. For questioning authority she had to be taught a lesson, she had to be beaten, humiliated, stripped naked and left in a cell for hours. She had to be stripped of both her clothing and her dignity and paraded around the police station for men to look at, Abu Ghraib style.

It was not about safety as Stark County Sheriff Tim Swanson tried to say, it was all about fear, humiliation, degradation, and torture, the breaking of ones will and spirit, the destruction of self esteem. This is what our police do now. This it what Hope Steffey’s arrest was about, this is who we have become as a nation.

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Original source: http://www.thepeoplesvoice.org/cgi-bin/blogs/voices.php/2008/02/22/hope_steffey_s_abu_ghraib_treatment_at_t