Scales of Justice

A lawsuit filed in federal court alleges the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office committed misconduct and rape in the case of a woman who was in custody in the Lincoln County Jail in 2016.

The alleged victim is suing Sheriff John Cottle, along with several deputies, and says a Taser was used on her. Complaints of inappropriate behavior by those deputies were not reported to supervisors, according to the complaint, and evidence of the events was not preserved.

The plantiff said she is filing her lawsuit under a psuedonym under fear of retaliation from the Sheriff’s Office.

The plaintiff’s lawsuit stems from a domestic disturbance call from November 2016, when she was arrested by Lincoln County deputies and taken to the jail after a fight with her husband.

The complaint says that the deputies told her they would need to arrest one of them due to a “12-hour rule” policy for any case that involves multiple domestic calls in a short amount of time. She claims that she told them to arrest her instead of her husband.

Once she arrived in the booking area, she claims she was thrown on the floor, Tased, and left in a restraint chair for hours. After that, she says, she was taken to another room and raped by “multiple” unnamed employees of the sheriff’s department and then taken to a cell.

John James, who has been the plaintiff’s attorney since her arrest, said as part of his original defense of his client, videos of his client’s detention were subpoenaed. He said “according to department policy, videos in the holding areas should have been downloaded and produced into evidence.”

James also said in the complaint, the Sheriff’ Office didn’t provide those videos, either they won’t give them to the defense, or the videos theoretically don’t exist.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a criminal investigation of the incident in 2017, and found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. In a statement made to The Lincoln County Journal, the Sheriff’s Office said the civil complaint is unfounded as well.

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated this complaint in 2017, and the results of their investigation was unfounded. The Sheriff’s Office denies all allegations outlined within this lawsuit,” the Sheriff’s Office said.

James, however, said absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

“(The FBI) is a law enforcement agency. Their job is not to ‘clear’ people. It’s to ‘investigate,”” he said. “It doesn’t mean nothing happened, or a crime didn’t happen that someone shouldn’t go to jail for.”

“It just means that they just didn’t have any evidence at that time.”

In a second incident in 2017, she claims that sheriff’s deputies were called to a home where she and her husband were being evicted. She says that a deputy injured her while he attempted to put handcuffs on her and during the altercation she screamed that sheriff’s office employees had sexually assaulted her “last time” she was arrested.

The plaintiff is seeking a Section 1983 civil action on several counts on false arrest, negligence, excessive force and failure to report her complaint when she mentioned the alleged rape during the 2017 arrest, as well as overlooking separate allegations when she accused a deputy of touching her inappropriately during a pat-down in the 2016 incident, alleging her Fourth Amendment rights were violated during her 2017 arrest.

The identities of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department employees accused of rape have not been disclosed in the complaint, which is one of the things James and his client want brought to light by the civil action.

“The main thing she wants - and the main thing we want - is accountability,” said James, who served in the Lincoln County Public Defender’s Office prior to starting his own practice in St. Peters. “We want the identities of the deputies responsible for sexual assault revealed. That’s why those people are named ‘John Doe No. 1’ and ‘John Doe No. 2.’”

“We have limited methods of holding people accountable for what they did.”