LOUISVILLE — A Jeffersonville, Ind., woman is suing Clark County and its jail officials for allegedly denying her feminine hygiene products while booked temporarily in the "drunk tank."
The class action complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court by Louisville attorney Laura Landenwich Tuesday morning, claims officials violated the rights of 36-year-old Melissa Houglin when she was allegedly ignored by Clark County Jail officers after asking for "a feminine hygiene product of any kind."
According to online court records, Houglin was arrested on Aug. 15, 2014, for a domestic battery misdemeanor and taken to the Clark County Jail. She was released six days later, and the state filed a motion to dismiss the charge against Houglin earlier this month.
Public Information Officer Scottie Maples said Tuesday morning he hadn't yet been made aware of the suit or allegations against the jail.
"I had to sit in my own blood for over 36 hours," Houglin said at Landenwich's office Tuesday afternoon. " ... Not only was I humiliated, I was embarrassed. I just want to know that this isn’t going to happen to another female ever again."
Houglin and other inmates in the holding cell tried to get the attention of officers but were told to "shut up," according to the suit. Eventually, another inmate provided Houglin with a tampon, and jail officers ignored her requests until she had been incarcerated for nearly 24 hours.
"Houglin bled onto the floor where she slept," the suit alleges.
Another inmate provided Houglin with a towel, the suit says, and Houglin removed her clothing and wrapped herself in the towel. An officer brought her a new jumpsuit and a single sanitary napkin. She wasn't provided with underwear — making it difficult for her to use the sanitary napkin — and wasn't allowed to shower while in the holding tank, the suit alleges.
"During the course of her incarceration, a psychologist came by the holding tank where Houglin was being held. The psychologist was disgusted by the condition — both sight and smell — of the cell, and told Defendants to have someone clean it up," the suit says.
The suit says that the jail does not purchase feminine hygiene products, but instead relies on donations. Landenwich said Tuesday she hasn't seen any actual records of feminine hygiene product donations to the jail.
It further alleges that the jail doesn't provide underwear for women, and Landenwich said jail records show that only 26 pairs of women's underwear were purchased during a two-year period. In addition, the complaint says the holding tank is often overcrowded and women are deprived of access to the shower, "even when they are there for several days and are ill or menstruating."
According to the Louisville Metro Corrections inmate handbook, feminine products are distributed to each female living area daily.
Landenwich claims in the suit that jail officials invoked cruel and unusual punishment prohibited under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. She said Houglin suffered physical harm, emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation and mental anguish.
Landenwich also discussed the jail's past, which has been plagued by legal battles, overcrowding issues and alleged mismanagement.
In August of last year, a four-month employee of the Clark County Jail was charged with sexual misconduct after police said he admitted to having sex with an inmate. Also in August, a work crew program for inmates was suspended after police said a former inmate tried to sneak phones and drugs to those inside the jail.
Jamey Noel, a former Indiana State Police officer and chair of Clark County’s GOP, won the election for sheriff in 2014, after former Sheriff Danny Rodden signed a plea deal in federal court, admitting he lied to the FBI about paying a prostitute for oral sex. He was also part of a federal lawsuit regarding the jail’s drug court treatment program.
Landenwich said Noel is included in the suit because, to her knowledge, no changes in policy, procedures or training have happened under his watch as sheriff.
The jail has also been host of an A&E Network series, 60 Days In, which filmed seven "innocent volunteers" undercover in an attempt by Noel to address issues within the jail. Noel told the Courier-Journal in May that the show sparked the firings of five correction officers and four additional resignations.
"We're left with this directionless staff that will decide on a whim whether or not they’ll provide these products to the inmates," Landenwich said Tuesday.
Landenwich said she expects additional plaintiffs to join the class action lawsuit, based on similar allegations that have been brought to her attention. She also said she doesn't think Clark County is unique, and jails across the U.S. have faced similar allegations.
"We know for a fact Melissa isn’t the only one," Landenwich said. "This is very embarrassing and sensitive material, so a lot of people haven’t been willing to be the face that gives a voice to these women siting in these cells."
Follow Lexy Gross on Twitter: @lexygross