Lexington attorney sues Clay Co. officials over strip search at jail

unjustified strip search, racial slurs alleged

bestep@herald-leader.comJune 8, 2011 

Jail employees in Clay County strip-searched a Fayette County woman without justification and made racial slurs after she was arrested at a public pool with a biracial child, the woman has charged in a federal lawsuit.

One female guard subjected Jennifer C. Philpot to a rough, painful rectal and vaginal cavity search even though there was no cause to suspect she was hiding contraband, the lawsuit said.

When the first guard found nothing, a second female officer said, "Well I think we better check this n----- lover one more time just to be sure," then roughly searched her again, Philpot swore in the complaint. Attorneys representing Philpot filed the lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in London.

The defendants are Jailer Kenny Price and the two guards, whose names were not known; former Judge-Executive Carl "Crawdad" Sizemore and six current or former magistrates; and a former police chief and two officers.

Price was not available for comment Tuesday.

The incident allegedly happened last June after Philpot went to a city-run pool in Manchester with her 12-year-old daughter and two of the daughter's friends, also 12, and Philpot's 10-year-old son.

Philpot is an attorney who practices part-time and teaches at Eastern Kentucky University. She was in Clay County to visit her mother, the suit said.

There was a private party scheduled at the pool that evening, but a lifeguard told Philpot she and the children could swim until the event started.

Soon after, people coming for the party asked Philpot to leave.

Philpot said she would and started gathering the children's toys, but one man apparently didn't think she was going quickly enough, ordering her again to leave and to take the "n----- child" with her, according to the lawsuit.

Philpot left with the children soon after, but two police officers were waiting for her in the parking lot.

Officer George Stewart told Philpot that people at the private party had said she was impaired.

Philpot denied that and passed several field sobriety tests. However, as the guests at the party looked on and the children cried, Philpot, distracted, failed the final test of standing on one foot, the lawsuit said.

Stewart did a portable breath test that he said showed she was drunk. However, Stewart and Officer Russell Smith should have known the reading was not correct, the lawsuit said.

Philpot and the children had been at church practicing a hymn for two hours before going to the pool, the lawsuit said.

The officers arrested Philpot on a charge of alcohol intoxication, the lawsuit said.

The arrest was not justified, the lawsuit charges.

At the jail, employees made racist comments to Philpot and within her hearing, including that she probably had "a lot of n----- music" on her iPod, the lawsuit alleges.

There were no additional tests done on Philpot at the jail to determine whether she was drunk.

There was no reason for jail employees to think Philpot was hiding illegal drugs or weapons in her body, and so no justification for a cavity search after an arrest on a non-violent misdemeanor charge, the lawsuit said.

The searches by the two guards left Philpot nauseous, dizzy, weak, and in pain, but jail employees refused her requests for water, a blanket and her medication, including an asthma inhaler, the lawsuit said. Philpot was released after six hours. She sought emergency treatment for bleeding caused by the searches, the lawsuit said.

The alcohol charge against her was later dismissed, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit charges that the county fiscal court and jailer failed to make sure jail employees were properly trained and failed to discipline employees after earlier reports of improper strip searches.

It also alleges the police officers were not adequately trained.

Jeff Culver, the former police chief named in the lawsuit, and current chief Chris Fultz said officers did nothing improper.

Training for officers in the city goes beyond what is required, both said.

"Our officers are highly trained," Fultz said.

The things that happened to Philpot during the incident injured, frightened and humiliated her and violated her federal and state constitutional rights, the lawsuit alleges.

She has suffered emotional distress and been diagnosed with acute post-traumatic stress disorder, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of money to compensate her and punish the defendants.

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