I was inspired to march alongside my Grandma last weekend, wearing a pink "Pussyhat" she made for me. I was moved by one woman’s horrific account of alleged abuse in a jail, in Greene County, Missouri. A story that is hard to believe could happen here, in the United States.
The story of an educated, white woman’s ten hours of dehumanization and debasement in the Greene County jail is what inspired my march last Saturday. If something like this could happen to one of the more privileged women in the U.S., I can only imagine what other atrocities have yet to be heard.
Erica Russell alleges that on her wedding night, November 30, 2016, her husband became too intoxicated during their celebrations with her new sister-in-law and soon to be brother-in-law. She claims her husband knocked her over in a lawn chair, badly hurting her hip. The police were called, and Russell was arrested at the urging of her soon to be brother-in-law, whom she claims “has a history of domestic abuse himself, and was eager to blame me instead of my husband for what had happened.”
She alleges that Sheriff Jim Arnott, then had her forcefully arrested, despite her protestations. Russell claims, “I had been taken into custody by badge number 1472, I remember, and I was going to be punished for being punished, on my wedding night.”https://soundcloud.com/guyswefucked/0122-01202017-jilly-hendricks#t=6:01
Russell says she was not read Miranda rights, or told what she was being charged with. Then began, what Russell describes, as her ten hours in hell.
Russell describes in detail a number of horrors which occurred during her time in the Greene County jail. She describes being roughly and aggressively handled, being mentally manipulated and exposed, deprived even the right to food, water, and restroom privileges during her detainment.
Russell describes being:
“...roughed up by six different police officers, jacket forcibly ripped off and breasts exposed for all to see. Only to be deprived of her own pants, left sobbing and shivering on the concrete floor of a glass front cell, naked from the waist down, begging for mercy, reduced to a subhuman state while dozens of laughing officers and male inmates get off to her humiliation and exposed body parts.”
The atrocious treatment Erica Russell describes during her detainment is truly horrifying. While mistreatment in the criminal justice system transcends gender, Russell’s story describes an instance of victim blaming leading to gross mistreatment and abuse.
Sheriff Jim Arnott did not respond to requests for comment on this story. Arnott’s record does, however, lend some credibility to this woman’s account. The Sheriff has been attacked by local news organizations for a number of reasons, and most recently, has been sued by the city of Springfield. One local Springfield man describes an unlawful eviction performed by Sheriff Arnott’s team in August of last year, in which his wife was handled so roughly that her arm was broken. Others have accused him of having questionable motivations.
Additionally, all of the specific names mentioned in Russell’s account -- Jim Arnott, Sergeant Stewart, and an officer named M. Painter -- can be found in a list of salaries posted by a local news organization.
Another confirmable aspect of Russell’s story is her description of her wedding, which she says took place at the courthouse where her and her husband wore matching onesies.
Russell’s mugshot was posted online by a group who is not affiliated with the Sheriff’s office, but claims, “All of our arrest records come from the Greene County Sheriff's Website and are publicly available.”
The date of her arrest, according to this page, matches Russell’s account. However, Russell refers to November 30 as a Tuesday, when it actually fell on a Wednesday. Additionally, this page shows she was arrested and booked on the 30th at 9:11am, which appears inconsistent with her account. The charge named is Domestic Assault 3rd Degree, which would make sense with Russell’s account of the arrest, although she claims she was not officially charged. I have reached out to Russell for more information, and have not yet heard back.
The Greene County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page denies the claims made by Russell. They have yet to respond to commenters requests to release the video.
At the moment, Russell’s full account of the incident cannot be verified. It would appear that at the very least, she was indeed arrested by the Greene County Sheriff’s Office. Inconsistencies in her account along with the questionable history of the sheriff and his department leave many questions to be answered.
I hope the horrific details of her treatment turn out to be false; however, I cannot imagine a motivation for fabricating them. Regardless, this story is what motivated me to march this past weekend for my fellow women, because there are overlooked injustices that should not and cannot be ignored.
Photo Credit: Shawn M. Griffiths