Audra West was visiting Fort Lauderdale from Texas in April 2014 when she was arrested at the bar the Elbo Room. Described in reports as "very intoxicated" and "belligerent," she was charged with disorderly intoxication, trespassing, and resisting arrest.
Her day got worse when she started her period in a waiting room at the Pompano Beach jail. West asked Dep. Kristen Connelly for a tampon, but Connelly refused. Annoyed, West cursed the deputy under her breath.
According to West, the comment enraged Connelly, who grabbed her and shoved her across the waiting room. Another officer joined in, and soon West found herself in a camera-less strip search room, where she says five Broward deputies "struck, hit, and pummeled" her until her face and body were bruised.
The case hit the airwaves in 2015 after investigative reporter and New Times alum Bob Norman obtained video of the waiting-room attack. Now West is suing Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and five deputies for battery, excessive force, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
"Audra is looking to be compensated for the brutality that was perpetrated by the sheriff’s office deputies," says her attorney, Gary Kollin, who filed the case earlier this month in federal court. "
As of this week, none of the defendants — Israel, Connelly, and correctional officers Henry Lawrence, Mark Sanders, Joyce Johnson, and Dorothy Jenkins — has formally responded to the lawsuit. In an email to New Times, BSO spokesperson Keyla Concepción declined to comment, citing agency policy on open lawsuits.
West's 39-page complaint lays out her jail ordeal in detail. Arrested while wearing a bathing suit and skirt, she says her clothes were taken away and she was given an inmate uniform but no undergarments. After being beaten in the strip search room, she was taken to a nurse and then put in a segregated cell, where she was placed in an immobilizing "restriction suit" and given only two sanitary pads before she was able to bail out two days later.
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West filed a complaint with BSO's internal affairs division four days after her release, but according to her lawsuit, deputies didn't complete a use-of-force report until after the agency lodged an investigation. Despite the agency's failure to follow its own policy, BSO exonerated the officers.
After Norman's TV exposé aired in 2015, the State Attorney's Office charged Connelly with battering West, and a jury found Connelly guilty at a trial last year. Kollin says Connelly, who received no jail time, no longer works for BSO, although it's unclear if her departure was related to the criminal conviction.
Kollin says he's concerned that deputies are using the jail's changing room, where inmates disrobe and are sometimes strip-searched, to abuse inmates out of the view of cameras. The attorney points to a 2012 case in which an inmate was beaten in a camera-less room until she blacked out.
"There must be some way for this area to be observed such that it cannot be used as a place where there is an opportunity for prisoners to suffer injuries without the ability to review them," Kollin says. "I recognize that it's a double-edged sword in that we want to protect the privacy of the inmates at the jail when they are disrobed, but we also need to make sure these types of occurrences can be properly investigated."