LIBERTY, Missouri - A DWI-related arrest could have a costly outcome for the City of Liberty. The woman at the center of the lawsuit says a police officer forced her to strip down to her underwear two different times while she was in custody at the jail.
Shauna Sloan, 25, filed a lawsuit against Liberty City Administrator Curt Wenson, former Police Chief Craig Knouse, and former Officer Matthew D. Payne, accusing them of several counts of negligence, negligent training, and negligent supervision.
Unless there is a settlement, the case is slated for trial in February, 2012.
NBC Action News has been digging through court documents and surveillance video while trying to answer the question, Did the City of Liberty have a chance to discipline the officer before the alleged incident, possibly avoiding it, along with potentially costly litigation?
Arrest leads to lawsuit
On June 28, 2008 Sloan was pulled over by Officer Payne at 4 a.m. while driving south on Highway 291 in Liberty. She was driving some friends home after spending a couple hours at a bar in Kansas City’s Power and Light District.
A police report said Payne smelled a strong alcohol odor, noticed water eyes, and observed staggering and confused speech during the field sobriety tests.
Payne arrested Sloan for driving under the influence of alcohol and brought her to police headquarters.
According to the lawsuit , Payne lead Sloan to a cell area and “demanded she remove all clothing down to her underwear.” Sloan stripped down to her bra and panties, but Payne also allegedly asked her to remove her bra. Sloan walked to Officer Payne and “handed him her bra, while crying and sobbing,” according to the lawsuit.
“I didn’t know what to do. I just kind of stood there for a second in disbelief,” Sloan told NBC Action News as she recounted the experience. “I didn’t want to tell him, ‘No’ because I didn’t want to get in more trouble. It was already embarrassing and I just wanted it to be over.”
NBC Action News reviewed the jail surveillance video. Officer Payne and Sloan can be seen walking around the corner of the booking area and down a hallway before disappearing from view. He can then be heard saying, “I need everything but your underwear.”
Payne reemerges around the corner several minutes later with Sloan wearing jail-issued clothing.
There is a surveillance camera in the jail that also shows the hallway leading to the cell area. When NBC Action News filed a revised Sunshine request, asking for this specific video, the City of Liberty responded, “All video of this instance has been previously provided.” This either means no one had turned it on or someone had switched it off prior to the incident.
Next, a breath test conducted on Sloan registered a blood-alcohol content of .199—more than twice the legal limit.
After Sloan was fingerprinted, booked, and posted bond, the lawsuit said Payne asked her to change clothes again in his presence. In the video, Payne is seen walking around the corner with her original clothing. A few minutes later, the jail-issued clothing gets tossed into a bin.
As that takes place, several other officers are seen walking out of the dispatch area. One of the male officers briefly looks around the corner before all three leave the building.
Several other times in the video, at least one female police officer is seen at the jail. At one point, a female officer escorts Sloan to the restroom. The lawsuit said the female officer should have been the only person with Sloan if a change of clothes was necessary.
Sloan received citations for DWI, failing to drive in a marked lane, and driving with no insurance. Court records indicate the DWI charge was later dismissed. However, Sloan said the State suspended her license for a year and she also took required educational classes about drinking and driving.
The lawsuit states that Sloan suffered from “embarrassment, humiliation, and mental distress that will continue for the foreseeable future.”
Sloan said the legal battle has been emotionally draining, but she wants justice for herself and anyone that has had to go through the same thing.
“I have no trust in the system anymore and no faith that if I get pulled over, then it’s not going to end up in another bad experience,” she said.
Internal investigation leads to firing of officer
Two days after the arrest, Michael Sloan showed up at Liberty police headquarters to file a citizen complaint against Payne . His daughter had called him after getting out of jail and told him about the entire experience.
“It’s pretty horrifying for a father to listen to his daughter go through such an ordeal with people you are raised to trust,” said Sloan, who now lives with Shauna in Boca Raton, Florida. “It should’ve never happened to my daughter. It should never happen to any father’s daughter.”
Following the internal investigation, court documents reveal Chief Knouse recommended that Payne be fired. The officer was hired in September, 2006 when he was 24