Strip-searched Que. woman alleges police abuse



A woman in Sherbrooke, Que., is accusing police of assault after she was forcibly stripped and left naked from the waist down in a holding cell.

The woman's lawyer released video footage of the incident, which took place last August.

The video shows a woman being carried into the police station, with one officer holding her by her handcuffed wrists and another by her feet.

In the holding cell shortly after, four officers, three male and one female, remove the woman's pants and leave her handcuffed face down on the floor, wearing only a tank top.

The woman then lies on the floor and doesn't move for four minutes after the incident.
'Abuse of power'

Émilie Côté, the woman's lawyer, said the officers were too tough and crossed ethical boundaries.

Côté said the incident occurred after police were called to a fight in a bar parking lot, where her client asked officers what they were doing, and they arrested her.

"It's needless violence, and abuse of power and force towards her. She was thrown onto the hood of the police car, they pulled her hair to get her out of the car, she was mistreated during transportation and during her search," said Côté.

She said officers broke their own rules by having male officers forcibly strip a female suspect.

However, the province's ethics code may not have technically been broken, since one of the officers present in the video was female.

The code of ethics of Quebec police officers says the search of a person should be made by, or in the presence of, a person of the same sex, except in the case of necessity.

Côté said she intends to file a criminal complaint, a civil suit and complaints with the Police Ethics Commission.

She said her client prefers to remain anonymous.
'Standard procedures'

Sherbrooke Police Chief Gaétan Labbé said no rules were broken and the officers followed proper procedures.

He said the woman was highly intoxicated and became violent with police officers after being arrested, and that's why she was placed in confinement.

"We don't habitually bring people into our cell locks who need to be held by their feet and hands," said Labbé.

He argued the video did not show his officers using excessive force or committing inappropriate acts towards the woman in question.

"She wasn't searched, she was undressed. We have procedures that are very clear, as soon as we place someone in confinement, that person needs to be undressed and left in their underwear," said Labbé.

He said procedure after undressing the person is to wait until the person calms down before moving them to a regular cell, which was done minutes later.

Labbé said the three male officers were present because they felt it was unsafe to send only a female officer.

"Without question, we were not going to leave her alone with the arrested woman," he said.

He said a report of the incident, including the, video was handed over to Quebec's public security ministry.