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Police Sued for Cavity Search

The accusations in the lawsuit read like a Kafkaesque nightmare. A man is pulled over, suspected of having drugs in his car. A positive “hit” by a drug dog leads to a search, but nothing is found. And then it gets really strange.

Police suspect, by the subject’s demeanor – including “keeping his legs together” – that he has drugs concealed in his rectum. So they take him into custody and get a search warrant for the man’s body. They take him to the local hospital and the ER physician refuses. Police then take him to another hospital, in a different county, and David Eckert is subjected to several digital exams, two different series of X-rays, several enemas, and a colonoscopy under anesthesia. No drugs are found.

The lawsuit alleges several breakdowns in the system. The first is that the judge shouldn’t have given permission for a cavity search based on the testimony provided, and even if he did, it should have given specific limits. Next, the police drove Eckert about an hour’s drive away and outside of the jurisdiction of the judge who issued the warrant. They also went beyond the time limits of the warrant, since all this medical probing took several additional hours. Finally, the search itself ended up being too intrusive and put Eckert at risk unnecessarily.

It does New Mexico’s reputation no good when a story like this goes viral – and it has. We look like a primitive and overly aggressive state, happy to violate citizen’s rights.

The real shame here is that the extensive and intrusive exams of Eckert were unnecessary. Other agencies, including US Customs (who deal with body cavity smuggling a great deal) simply secure a suspect and wait until they have a bowel movement.

There has been no published response to the allegations in the lawsuit, which names the police officers, the city of Deming, the hospital and the doctors involved as defendants.

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