Lawsuit says Portsmouth sheriff, deputy forced detainees to expose genitals to prove menstruation

By: - April 11, 2023 2:15 pm

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A woman who was held at Portsmouth City Jail in May 2022 is suing the Portsmouth sheriff and a deputy over an incident in which she says the deputy forced her and at least one other female detainee to expose their genitals to prove they were menstruating.

The woman, Danaesha Martin, said in the suit filed Friday, April 7 in Portsmouth Circuit Court that the deputy ordered the detainees to expose themselves as a condition of obtaining sanitary products.

“The provision of a sanitary napkin, pad, and/or tampon by a correctional officer to a female detainee/inmate is a mere ministerial function that in no way requires the exercise of discretion,” reads Martin’s suit. 

According to a copy of an email obtained by the Mercury, Portsmouth City Jail Chief Deputy of Jail Operations Lt. Col. Dorothy Dildy-Clemons wrote deputies shortly after the alleged May 2 incident that “at no time are you to ask female inmates to pulled [sic] down their pants and undergarments to visually see if they are on their cycle.” 

“This can become a PREA issue that can escalate into a lawsuit,” wrote Dildy-Clemons, presumably referring to the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. “This is to stop immediately, expeditiously!!!” 

Dildy-Clemons noted in the same email that the jail had “plenty” of sanitary products and directed deputies to log the names of inmates receiving such products and the quantity used. 

Marvin Waters, an undersheriff in the Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office, said Dildy-Clemons’ email was sent in response to a rumor and not an official report. 

“What the lieutenant colonel was doing was putting something out there about it to say, ‘Hey, this is something we do not do,’” he said. “There was never an official report of an incident that had occurred.” 

Waters said the sheriff’s office doesn’t comment on pending litigation and plans to file a response within the next 30 days. He also said Dildy-Clemons’ description of the procedure used to provide detainees with sanitary products accurately reflects the jail’s ongoing policy. 

“I really wish I could speak on it more, but once all the facts in the lawsuit come out, a lot of viewpoints on the matter will definitely change,” he said. 

Martin is accusing the sheriff and the deputy, variously called “Katherine Adams,” “Catherine Adams” and “RC Adams,” among other spellings, of sexual abuse, gross negligence and wilful and wanton misconduct, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

Under state code, sexual abuse is defined as “an act committed with the intent to sexually molest, arouse, or gratify any person” in four specific situations, including when “the accused forces another person to touch the complaining witness’s intimate parts or material directly covering such intimate parts.” 


Martin is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages, as well as attorney’s fees and costs. She is being represented by Mark Dix, an attorney with the Richmond-based Dix Law Firm. 

At the time of the alleged events, Martin was being held at Portsmouth City Jail on charges of malicious wounding and conspiracy to maliciously wound in connection to the shooting of a man and the striking of a woman by a vehicle in Portsmouth. The charges were later dropped. 

Virginia prison agency discriminated against female employee in tampon case, jury rules

At the time, she was awaiting sentencing in a separate case related to the November 2018 death of her cousin, Shavondes Martin, in Waterloo, Iowa. While she was originally charged with first-degree murder in that death, Martin agreed to plead guilty to a lesser conspiracy charge and testify against a man accused of shooting her cousin. This past October, a judge sentenced Martin to up to 10 years in prison

Dix said his law firm was retained last summer to represent Martin in the Portsmouth City Jail case but the Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests for documents under the state Freedom of Information Act for several months. 

Dix filed a separate lawsuit against the sheriff in January 2023 asking Portsmouth Circuit Court to require the office to comply with the FOIA request. He said he then received a response.

Court records show the FOIA case was dismissed Feb. 15. 

Women’s use of sanitary products in jails and prisons has sparked a string of legal cases in Virginia and other states in recent years. In 2018, the Virginia Department of Corrections instituted a policy forbidding female visitors to state prisons from wearing tampons, citing concerns about the women instead smuggling in contraband. The agency later rolled the policy back, although some department officials told the General Assembly in 2019 that women wearing tampons were only being allowed no-contact visitation with inmates

This September, a jury in federal district court found VADOC had discriminated against a former employee who was fired after a body scanner detected a tampon she was wearing, causing officials to suspect she was carrying contraband into the prison. 

In Tennessee, a lawsuit between the nation’s largest private prison operator, CoreCivic, and female prison visitors ordered to remove tampons or sanitary pads to prove they were menstruating was settled in a confidential agreement in 2017. The women had said guards forced them to expose their genitals as proof. 


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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.