Ontario woman angry over Georgia strip-search
Published Thursday, April 12, 2007 10:37AM EDT
Carleton University student Cheryl Kuehn is outraged about the way she was treated by police in the state of Georgia. She says she was strip-searched and locked up for 12 hours, all for running a stop sign and speeding.
Kuehn, 23, who has just completed her master's in social work, was traveling to Florida with her husband, brother-in-law and a friend.
They had just pulled out of a restaurant parking lot along the I-95 in New Brunswick, Georgia, when Kuehn was pulled over for speeding and failing to stop at a stop sign.
When the officers learned Kuehn was a Canadian, they decided to take her into custody until she could post bail and until they could confirm with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency that she was legally allowed to be in the country.
"They basically told me that I had to go to jail and have to post bond," Kuehn told Canada AM Thursday. "I was very scared of that because I've never been pulled over in my life, so I was crying."
When she arrived at the detention centre, Kuehn was fingerprinted and ordered to strip and shower.
"They wanted me to shower and I kept trying to avoid it because I was really scared and I don't like getting undressed in front of people. But eventually, it was inevitable and I had to go and have a shower in front of someone and get this lice treatment put all over me and -- it was very humiliating,"
Kuehn was told to put on a navy blue jail outfit and sent to sleep in a cell with two other women while other inmates jeered and leered at her from adjoining cells.
"They were trying to intimidate me. And it worked," she says.
Kuehn says she was never given a proper explanation about what was happening to her and says she still doesn't quite understand why she had to endure what she did.
"One of the officers told me that I guess a lot of Canadians will go across the border and they won't pay their tickets. So now it seems like what they're doing in Georgia is they're arresting you and putting you in jail and making you post bond in order to pay for your ticket, which I think is humiliating," she said.
"They treat anyone who is not an American as an illegal immigrant. They don't even look at your passports, because when you look at the front page of the passports, it says that we have protection because we are cleared by our country, but that's not even valid.
"So they need to change something so that they actually acknowledge passports so they don't need to do this immigrant check for tourists."
Georgia corrections officials agree the situation was handled poorly and say Kuehn should have been released within an hour of her arrest. Glynn County Sheriff Wayne Bennett told the Ottawa Citizen that this is the first time a foreign national has been detained so long on such minor violations.
"And it damn well better be the last," he said.
Bennett added that some of the officers involved could be disciplined over the matter.
But Kuehn says that's not what she wants.
"They need to change policies because just firing some officers will not actually change this. It's going to happen again and again."
"They need to learn how to be more professional and how to respect their prisoners no matter who they are because they basically treat you like you're cattle when you're in there."