It’s the epitome of invasive law enforcement. Police seek warrants for body cavity searches when they claim to suspect someone has secreted illegal drugs in their private parts. On other occasions, police have conducted invasive searches without warrants. Sometimes so-called cavity searches involve probing inside a driver’s undergarments during traffic stops.
Recent lawsuits allege officers violated female drivers when they probed the women’s genitalia during unwarranted roadside stops – allegations supported by police dashboard camera videos of the cavity searches. In jails and prisons, such searches may be routine, with no reliable data on how extensively or appropriately they are conducted.
Details of a New Mexico man’s disturbing all-night cavity search ordeal casts new doubts on the motivations of police who probe motorist’s private parts. Police stopped David Eckert as he left a Wal-Mart store. After a routine traffic stop, police in Deming, New Mexico took the man to a hospital where a doctor used his finger to repeatedly penetrate the man’s anus.
When no drugs were found, police asked a doctor to repeatedly administer enemas. Again, no drugs were found. Not satisfied, police then asked a doctor to perform a colonoscopy, inserting a scope into the man’s anus, rectum, colon and large intestines. The doctor anesthetized the man and performed the invasive procedure against his will, but no drugs were found.
Tight Buttocks Were Reason for Cavity Search
The disturbing 15-hour rape ordeal proceeded under the thinnest of legal pretexts. When police several hours earlier had completed their traffic stop, the man asked if he was free to leave. As he walked away, police alleged he walked with his buttocks and legs held together tightly, rousing their suspicions. They called in a drug dog – a dog with a dubious record of false alerts, according to the man’s lawsuit.
The dog allegedly alerted to narcotics in the drivers seat of the man’s car. Police asked a magistrate judge for a search warrant allowing them to search the man’s anal cavity, which was granted. The warrant did not specify which medical procedures could be used to execute the search. However, a federal court precedent requires such specific details when an anal cavity search is authorized, the man’s lawsuit contends. See U.S. v Gray, 669 F.3d 556 (5th Cir. 2012).
Even if the dog’s dubious alert and the officer’s odd claim about the way the man walked provided sufficient basis for a search warrant, the procedures that followed were outside the scope of the warrant, the lawsuit alleges. When a doctor at a hospital in the county where the warrant was issued refused to probe the man’s anus, police drove him to another county. Whatever validity the warrant had was limited to the county where it was issued, the lawsuit claims.
The first negative X-Ray results should have satisfied police the man was not concealing drugs, but they didn’t stop with that. A doctor began using his finger to probe the man’s anus. Two out of three times a doctor digitally probed the man’s anus occurred after the warrant had expired at 10 p.m. The three enemas the man was forced to endure also occurred after the warrant expired. Hours after the warrant expired, a second X-ray was ordered, this time extending his upper torso. Yet again, no drugs were found.
Still not satisfied, police continued. The man was anesthetized – against his will – and subjected to a colonoscopy examination of his anus, rectum, colon and lower intestine. He said he repeatedly objected to the intrusive actions
Victim Alleges Cavity Search was Retaliation
According to the man’s lawsuit, police and nurses watched the enemas and the repeated intrusions into his anus. A privacy curtain was left open so he was exposed to public areas of the emergency room. As officers drove him home after the emergency room rape, he alleges they harassed and mocked him “by making derogatory remarks about Plaintiff and his compromised position.” To make matters worse, the the hospital sent him a bill for things they did to him against his will.
The victim, David Eckert, alleges police began the 15-hour emergency room ordeal in retaliation when he asked if he was free to leave after the Jan. 2, 2013 traffic stop. His lawsuit alleges that police had earlier seized his car after a Sept. 6, 2012 traffic stop. On that occasion, he’d also asked if he was free to go. He alleges police claimed his question was rude and retaliated by seizing his car, ostensibly to search for drugs. None were found.
Eckert’s attorneys contend the entire January ordeal took place without him ever being formally arrested, though he was handcuffed then driven between a police station and hospitals in two counties. The filing alleges 1st Amendment rights to free speech violations when officers retaliated against him for asking if he was free to leave the traffic stop. His 4th Amendment rights were violated:
- when he was “constructively” arrested him without an arrest warrant,
- when police obtained a search warrant without probable cause based on false information,
- when police searched him beyond the scope of the search warrant, and
- when the search warrant was executed without officially arresting him.
The New Mexico case seems extreme. One would hope it is an aberration rather than the norm. Yet, nobody can know with certainty how often police use illegal, intrusive, embarrassing and degrading searches to get information. Those who fight back with lawsuits are often those from whom police obtained no evidence during illegal searches.
What if I’m Subjected to a Cavity Search in Oklahoma
For motorists or others subjected to illegal searches, criminal attorneys offer a few suggestions. When police attempt to detain you, ask if you are free to leave. If you are allowed to leave, go. If police ask permission to search, you don’t have to provide consent.
During an invasive search, there is little you can do other than verbally object. It is important to remember details of an intrusive encounter. It can also be important not to allow yourself to become agitated – even when police may try to engage you in conversation or push your buttons so see if you will react.
If you are able to, contact a friend, family member or an attorney and advise them what is happening. If you’ve been recently subjected to an illegal cavity search in Oklahoma, or any other unwarranted arrest or illegal search in the Tulsa area contact a Tulsa criminal attorney as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney familiar with criminal law may be best able to help you prepare a civil lawsuit to recover damages when your civil rights have been violated. You may be able to recover damages for the emotional injuries, medical costs for procedures police ordered, and punitive damages.
Free Consultation: Tulsa Criminal Attorney
For a free consultation with a Tulsa civil rights and criminal defense attorney, contact the Wirth Law Office at (918) 879-1681 (or toll-free at 888 Wirth-Law). You may also send your question to the Tulsa criminal attorney using the form at the top of this page.