Clay County judge dismisses city of Liberty, former police chief from strip search lawsuit

LIBERTY, Mo. - A Clay County judge delivered a major setback to a woman who sued the city of Liberty, accusing a police officer of forcing her to strip down to her underwear in jail.

Back in May 2011, a 41 Action News investigation uncovered court documents and surveillance video about the incident.

Shauna Sloan, 27, was arrested by Officer Matthew D. Payne for driving under the influence of alcohol in June 2008. Sloan accused Payne of forcing her to strip in front of him two different times while she was in custody.

Sloan filed a lawsuit against Payne, the city of Liberty, City Administrator Curt Wenson, and former Police Chief Craig Knouse, accusing them of negligence, negligent training and negligent supervision.

But this week, Judge Rex Gabbert dismissed the city, Wenson, and Knouse from the lawsuit.

"It really hurts the plaintiff and lowers the value of the case," said attorney Chris Kopecky , who studied the case last year and read the Judge Gabbert's recent order. "The amount this could be settled for would be dramatically less."

According to court documents, the city argued it was protected by sovereign immunity, meaning it should not be held liable for the alleged misconduct of an employee.

Knouse and Wenson argued there is no Missouri law requiring them to provide training or supervision to specific employees. They also said the Liberty Police Department had a written policy in place dealing with strip searches.

Finally, both Wenson and Knouse said they had no knowledge that Payne had violated the strip search policy prior to Sloan's incident.

As 41 Action News previously reported, Payne admitted to three similar incidents with other female prisoners, according to disciplinary documents filed with Missouri's Administrative Hearing Commission.

Payne was fired following an internal investigation by Liberty police. The state permanently revoked his peace officer license.

41 Action News attempted to contact Sloan and her father, Michael Sloan, for reaction to the development. No word if the family and their attorney plan to appeal the decision.

David Baker, the attorney representing the city of Liberty, Wenson and Knouse, declined to comment when reached by phone. Baker said litigation is still pending, explaining he also represents several officers who were at the jail that night and are included in the lawsuit.

Payne's attorney had also filed a motion to be removed from the lawsuit, which the judge denied.

The case has dragged on in court for more than three years. A jury trial had originally been scheduled for February 2012, but it was canceled late last year.

Currently, there is no trial scheduled between Sloan and the remaining defendants.

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.
 

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