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Special prosecutor named in LaSalle strip search case

MORRIS – Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland has been appointed special prosecutor in the case involving a Coal City resident who claims she was strip-searched by LaSalle County sheriff’s deputies.

Dana Holmes was arrested in May by Marseilles police for driving under the influence of alcohol and was taken to the LaSalle County Jail.

After arriving, Holmes was taken to a jail cell where her clothes were “involuntarily stripped from her body by one female officer, Samantha Kromm, and three male officers, Tyson Szafranki, Terry Puckett and Aaron Hollenbeck,” according to LaSalle County court documents. The entire incident was recorded by the jail’s surveillance cameras.

Holmes alleges the four deputies did not obtain the proper written permission from a police commander to authorize the strip search, nor did they have reasonable belief that she was concealing a weapon or controlled substance to prompt the search, which is required by state law.

Further, Holmes alleges it was illegal for three men to conduct the search on a woman.

As such, Holmes claims the officers are guilty of official misconduct and committed a Class 3 felony offense by unlawfully conducting the search. She is suing the sheriff’s department and the four officers involved.

As the special prosecutor, Helland is charged with investigating the incident to determine whether there was any criminal activity. Helland had no comment about his appointment.

Typically, the duty to investigate, charge and prosecute instances of misconduct would fall to LaSalle County State’s Attorney Brian Towne. However, Terry Ekl, Holmes attorney, determined Towne has “a clear conflict of interest” because as the state’s attorney, he defends LaSalle County, the sheriff’s office and the county’s officers, according to Ekl’s petition.

Ekl claimed Towne could not both defend the officers involved in this case while investigating and prosecuting them, and therefore Ekl petitioned Nov. 5 for the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Originally, the court requested the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor to accept the appointment, but the office declined.

Director of State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor Pat Delfino could not be reached Friday for comment as to why his office turned down the appointment.

By Feb. 25, Helland was asked and accepted the appointment of special prosecutor.

Helland has 36 months from the date of the incident – May 18, 2013 – to complete the investigation.

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