The jailing of a Hamburg woman on a traffic infraction could cost Erie County, the Village of Blasdell and the state more than $3 million if she wins lawsuits she has filed.
Brenda Snyder Stump, then 20, was taken from Blasdell in handcuffs to the Erie County Holding Center on Nov. 17, 1988, because the state Department of Motor Vehicles wrongly listed her as driving with a suspended license. She also was mistakenly branded a criminal a month later in remarks made by a holding center official on a radio show.
Mrs. Stump said she was held 4 1/2 hours in a cell with a suspected prostitute and saw an inmate expose himself while making sexually suggestive comments to her.
She has launched suits against the governments in the State Court of Claims and U.S. District Court. She has lodged more than $3 million in claims, including requests for punitive damages.
Mrs. Stump alleges she was subjected to a strip search and a body search -- procedures usually used for criminal suspects.
The traffic charges against her, including the driver's license charge, were non-criminal infractions.
"I was hoping it was a horrible dream, but it wasn't, and even my parents didn't believe me for a while," she said.
She described what happened after she was stopped in Blasdell over failure to stop at a flashing red light.
Mrs. Stump claims state Parole Board member Raul Russi, then Erie County Holding Center superintendent, slandered her during a Buffalo radio talk show a little over a month after she was jailed. By the time Russi went on the air, the state already had admitted the computer error, she said.
On top of that, weeks later, while taking criminal-justice courses at Hilbert College, Mrs. Stump had to relive the events during classroom talks.
Her case had attracted local attention, she says, because Russi discussed it during a Dec. 20, 1988, appearance on John Otto's radio talk show.
According to transcripts, Russi wrongfully described the license charge as "an unclassified misdemeanor, which is a crime," and went on to say motorists such as Mrs. Stump are booked for such offenses because they "have caused a lot of danger and damages."
Officials of the Department of Motor Vehicles would not comment on the case.
Erie County Attorney Patrick H. NeMoyer said Russi may have been "technically wrong" in some of his radio show remarks, but the county, the Sheriff's Department and the village will defend the handling of the traffic incident.
Any physical indignities Mrs. Stump believes she endured at the jail were merely precautions followed to protect the health and welfare of the staff and inmates, NeMoyer said.
The county is representing Blasdell in the suits because the Sheriff's Department has a contract with the village for law enforcement.
Russi, named by Gov. Cuomo to the Parole Board last summer, declined to comment.
Glenn E. Murray, Mrs. Stump's attorney, said the conduct of the state agency and the holding center "were grossly unreasonable" and violated Mrs. Stump's constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
"And the law provides a remedy for that," Murray said.
Mrs. Stump thought an August 1988 traffic ticket for failing to come to a complete halt at a stop sign was settled Oct. 12, 1988, when she paid a $35 fine as a first-time traffic offender, plus a $10 mandatory surcharge.
She was wrong.
Department of Motor Vehicles computers in Albany -- as the agency later admitted -- failed to record the payment of her fine and put out a statewide report indicating her driver's license had been suspended.
When Erie County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Horst stopped her on Lake Avenue in Blasdell at about 9:30 p.m. Nov. 17, 1988, for allegedly failing to come to a complete stop at a flashing red light, his check of her driver's record revealed the suspension notice.
Allegedly compounding the problem, according to Mrs. Stump, Horst charged her with non-criminal traffic infractions -- listed as infractions on her arrest sheet -- but took her into custody and impounded her car.
Murray said either she should have been given an appearance ticket for a court date several weeks later or she should have been taken to the nearest available court for arraignment and release.
Instead, an hour after her arrest, she was taken in handcuffs from the Blasdell office of the Sheriff's Department to the 540-inmate holding center downtown, where she remained until her father posted her $200 bail at 2 a.m.
Months later, Mrs. Stump was convicted of the flashing-light traffic infraction and paid a $50 fine.