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Lawsuit: Drug search included colonoscopy

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

A Lordsburg man has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque alleging that what started as a routine traffic stop ended with him being detained for 15 hours by police and subjected to eight invasive body searches, including a colonoscopy, in a futile attempt to find drugs.

The plaintiff, David W. Eckert, 54, alleges that Deming police officers and Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputies, using an invalid and expired warrant, took Eckert to the Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City where he was subjected to two digital rectal exams; two X-rays, one of them to his chest area; three enemas, after which a hospital nurse and a police officer witnessed each of his bowel movements and examined his stools; and a forced sedation and colonoscopy.

Eckert protested each medical procedure, insisted he was not hiding drugs, and no drugs were found in his body at the conclusion of any of the screenings.

In addition, Gila Regional Medical Center billed Eckert for the law enforcement requested procedures – about $6,000 according to his attorney, Shannon Kennedy.

“They actually sent it to collections,” she said.

“This is very serious for our client, who is mortified and lives in constant fear of retaliation. The warrant did authorize an anal cavity search, but a colonscopy is far beyond that, not to mention that it took place at 1 a.m., long after the warrant’s 10 p.m. expiration time.”

Further, she said, the warrant was issued in Luna County, but when an emergency room doctor at Mimbres Memorial Hospital in Deming refused to conduct the cavity search on ethical grounds, “the police drove him an hour away to the Gila hospital of horrors, which is in Grant County,” Kennedy said.

While the federal lawsuit states “a search warrant signed by the Luna Magistrate Judge in the Deming Court is not enforceable in Grant County,” both of those counties as well as Hidalgo are part of the 6th Judicial District, said District Attorney Francesca Martinez-Estevez.

“I don’t think it’s fatal to the search warrant, but I’d rather not comment on the legality of a search warrant that I haven’t reviewed,” she said.

Martinez-Estevez said she was unaware of the specifics of the Eckert case. The incident occurred on her first day as the district attorney, and because officers never criminally charged Eckert, no case was brought to her for review.

Named as defendants are the city of Deming and Deming police officers Bobby Orosco, Robert Chavez and an officer identified only as Hernandez; Hidalgo County and Hidalgo County Sheriff’s deputies David Arredondo, Robert Rodriguez and Patrick Green; Assistant District Attorney Daniel Dougherty, formerly of the 6th Judicial District; Gila Regional Medical Center and doctors Robert Wilcox and Okay H. Odocha.

None of the named law enforcement organizations or the Gila Regional Medical Center returned phone calls to the Journal. Ho wever, attorney Blaine Mynatt, of the Holt Mynatt Martinez law firm in Las Cruces, which represents the Hidalgo County defendants, said “I am aware of the lawsuit and as far as our firm’s policy, we don’t comment on pending litigation.”

The incident that led to the lawsuit occurred about 2 p.m. on Jan. 2, as Eckert was leaving the Walmart parking lot in Deming and failed to come to a complete halt at a stop sign. Deming Police officer Chavez had him exit the vehicle and patted him down “without reasonable suspicion,” the lawsuit claims.

According to the court document and Kennedy, Chavez apparently thought Eckert was standing in an erect posture, keeping his legs together, as if he were “clenching his buttocks.” A narcotics sniffing dog was brought to the scene and alerted to the driver’s seat of Eckert’s car.

Chavez was told by officer Orosco and deputy Arredondo that Eckert was known in Hidalgo County “to insert” drugs into his body, according to the suit, which adds that the information is false.

Eckert had been stopped in Hidalgo County the previous September for a cracked windshield. Drugs were suspected but not found and Eckert was not charged, the lawsuit says.

Though he was not under arrest during the January incident, Eckert was placed in handcuffs and taken to the Deming Police Department.

Meanwhile, officers obtained a warrant to search Eckert’s car and his body, including his anal cavity.

When transferred to the emergency room at Mimbres Memorial Hospital, the doctor refused to conduct the cavity search on ethical principles, so officers drove Eckert to Gila Regional Medical Center in another county, according to the suit.

The federal lawsuit, originally filed in August, asks for nonspecified actual and compensatory damages, punitive damages, “injunctive relief” to protect Eckert and his family from “ongoing harassment and intimidation of defendants,” and attorney fees and litigation expenses.

Kennedy said attorneys representing the defendants have already responded to the complaint “and did not dispute any of the facts.” Consequently, “we filed a motion for summary judgment in just the last couple of days.”

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