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Tabitha Gentry Allegedly Pepper-Sprayed, Stripped, Left Naked By Jailers

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Floyd County Jail
Floyd County Jail

A misdemeanor arrest resulted in an Indiana woman being stripped naked, pepper-sprayed and left for hours on the floor of an unsanitary holding cell, according to her attorney.

"This is not Abu Ghraib," attorney Laura Landenwich told The Huffington Post. "This is someone charged with misdemeanor crimes in Indiana."

Landenwich is representing 31-year-old Tabitha Gentry, a mother of four from New Albany, Indiana. According to Landenwich, the Indiana State Police arrested Gentry on March 30 for disorderly conduct and resisting an officer, following an alleged domestic dispute between Gentry and her estranged husband.

Following Gentry's arrest, a state trooper transported her to the Floyd County Jail, which is operated by the Floyd County Sheriff's Department.

The jail's video surveillance system captured much of what happened next, beginning with Gentry's arrival at the jail entrance, according to her attorney.

"She is handcuffed behind her back and as far as the video shows -- it has no audio -- you can see she is compliant," Landenwich said. "She is walking without assistance and is not making any threatening gestures or anything like that."

However, during the booking process, the video captures some sort of dispute between Gentry and the jail staff. Landenwich described it as a "verbal altercation."

The sheriff's department did not return multiple calls for comment from HuffPost. However, according to a written jail report obtained by the Louisville Courier-Journal, jail officials allege that Gentry was drunk and belligerent, and that she kicked and cursed officers as they questioned her.

Following the alleged altercation, Gentry, according to the jail report, "was being placed in a smock and the females [officers] were going to remove her clothes."

However, according to Landenwich, the video surveillance that captured the altercation clearly shows "two male deputies and two female deputies" removing her client's clothing.

"[They] take off her shoes, her pants, her underwear [and then they] uncuff her and take off her shirt," Landenwich said.

The attorney also said the video shows Gentry being placed in a solitary cell, completely naked, without a smock or any sort of covering.

"Before she gets in there, there is video from that cell that shows another inmate in that cell," said Landenwich. "He has a smock wrapped around himself. You see a deputy go get a jumpsuit, give it to whoever that person is, and he is taken out and my client is taken in."

Time stamps on the video allegedly show that Gentry was placed in the cell at 4:15 a.m., roughly 8 minutes after her arrival at the jail. A short time later, the video captures Gentry banging on the door. According to her attorney, she was "screaming for her clothes or something to wear."

The commotion allegedly continued and, at about 5:12 a.m., an officer approached the cell.

"You see the little slot in the door open and a can of pepper spray go into the room and just spray like you would spray an air freshener," said Landenwich. "You see my client, who is completely naked, back up against the far wall."

According to The Courier-Journal, the jail report they obtained notes that an officer dispersed pepper spray into Gentry's cell because she was yelling, pounding on the door and agitating other inmates.

"I made the decision that I had to gain her compliance for the safety of this facility," Sgt. Ryan Rainey wrote in the report, according to the newspaper. He also reportedly described the amount of pepper spray released as a "short burst."

Landenwich criticized the use of the pepper spray.

"Standard protocol in every police case I have ever dealt [with] is that you're allowed to use [the] force necessary to maintain [an] officer's safety or [the] safety of other people," she said. "Well, here we have a woman, who is naked, locked in a cell, who cannot possibly pose a threat to anybody."

The attorney also claims the surveillance videos show her client was not offered any immediate aid to remove the chemical from her body.

"They left her in there with that chemical in the air and on her body for about 40 minutes," Landenwich said. "As soon as the situation is under control, they're supposed to provide [inmates] with water. Because she had no clothes on, she also had pepper spray on her genitals. So she was feeling very bad."

The video surveillance allegedly shows Gentry sitting in her cell, naked, after having been pepper-sprayed, until about 6 a.m., when she is taken out of the cell.

"They take her to wash her eyes out," said Landenwich. "She is given a smock to cover herself, but it doesn't have any way to hang on the body -- it's like a blanket or towel -- so once she gets her hands cuffed behind her back, you see the smock start to slip off her body."

When Gentry returns to the cell, escorted by a male officer, the video allegedly shows that her breasts and other private areas are exposed as she is escorted in.

"She is still cuffed behind the back and the smock has completely slipped off," Landenwich said. "There is a complete frontal view of her naked body and the room that they came from is the main booking area where other inmates pass through -- a common public area -- and you see her clearly coming out of that area completely exposed."

Gentry is placed back in the same holding cell, where her attorney claims she was left from about 6:20 a.m. to 11 a.m., when she is given a jumpsuit and booked.

Landenwich said she will name the sheriff's office in a lawsuit she is filing against the agency this week. She plans to address not only the alleged treatment of her client but also the conditions of the cell in which she was temporarily held.

"There's the sanitary part," she said. "That is the naked holding cell. There is no toilet in there. Inmates have to pee in a floor drain and that is also the floor they have to sit on. There was a male naked in that cell before my client got in there and no one washed it out, so you can imagine the unsanitary -- the ick factor -- of holding multiple naked people who have been charged with a variety of crimes in a cell like that."

The sheriff's department, according to The Courier-Journal, does not have a policy to strip-search inmates, but will remove garments to check inmates for drugs and other items.

Landenwich claims there are rules in place that were clearly ignored.

"There are lots of rules about how a strip search is conducted, but this was not a strip search," the attorney said. "They weren't searching her for anything. This was sexual humiliation."

According to WHAS11, similar allegations were made against the jail in September by a woman named Ashley Storms, who said deputies removed her clothes. The disposition of that case is unclear.

Gentry and Storms, according to Landenwich, are not the only victims of such treatment.

"Since this story has come out, I have been contacted by several people who have suffered similar and, [in] some cases, worse abuse at the hands of this jail," she said. "I can hardly believe this has gone on as long as it has and no one seems to recognize that this is a problem."

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