Man, woman forced to pay hospital bills after drug strip search
No drugs were found in either of the cases
A southern New Mexico man who was pulled over for not making a complete stop was taken to two hospitals and forced to have anal probes, three enemas, two body X-rays and a colonoscopy because police thought he was hiding drugs, according a federal lawsuit.
In El Paso, a woman crossing the border was stripped searched, vaginally probed then taken to the hospital for more invasive tests, a forced bowel movement, X-rays and scans, the American Civil Liberties Union says.
No drugs were found in either of the cases, and both people are now being billed for thousands of dollars by the hospitals, according to attorneys, who say the cases raise serious question about law enforcement practices along the border.
"It's terrifying," said Laura Schauer Ives, an attorney with the ACLU in Albuquerque.
"I think law enforcement has been emboldened, particularly where it comes to drug interdiction. It's kind of anything goes. You couple that with drug interdiction at the border and you have a recipe for serious civil liberties violations."
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of David Eckert against police and sheriff's officials in Deming and Hidalgo County, which borders Mexico, alleges Deming police sought a search warrant for Eckert because they thought he appeared to be clenching his buttocks when he got out of his car Jan. 2.
According to the lawsuit, Hildalgo County sheriff's deputies officers told the Deming police officers Eckert was known in the area for carrying drugs inside his body. Police also brought in a drug-sniffing dog, which detected something in the driver's seat.
The Deming police chief did not immediately respond to a call for comment Wednesday, but in their response to the lawsuit, the officers said they were lawfully carrying out their duties.
In a separate case, Schauer Ives said she is preparing to file a lawsuit against the Border Patrol on behalf of a New Mexico woman who was subjected to similar treatment after crossing from Mexico into El Paso in December. She declined to name the woman because her client "considers it a sexual assault."
The biggest difference in the cases, she said, is the Border Patrol had no search warrant when it took her client to the hospital in El Paso.
A spokesman for the Border Patrol in El Paso did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case or on its policies for conducting such searches.
In the Deming case, the lawsuit details a host of violations of Eckert's rights, including his being denied the right to make a phone call from the police station, the fact that the search warrant that was filed to search his body was valid only in Luna County but he was taken to a different country after a doctor at the local hospital refused to do the searches, citing ethical violations.