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Bad Cop Blotter

The Police Can Probe You if They Think You Have Drugs

This week, two men in New Mexico claimed they were subjected to horrific invasive anal medical procedures after minor traffic incidents during which the cops came to suspect they were carrying drugs.

by Lucy Steigerwald
Nov 11 2013, 7:11pm

Photo via Flickr user Andrew Magill

This week, two men in New Mexico claimed they were subjected to horrific invasive anal medical procedures after minor traffic incidents during which the cops came to suspect they were carrying drugs. On November 5, a local news station reported that David Eckert was suing the city of Deming, Hidalgo County, and the officers and doctors responsible for his mistreatment during a January incident. Eckert was pulled over by officers because he didn’t come to a full stop while trying to exit a Walmart parking lot. At some point during their interaction, the cops decided that Eckert seemed to be “clenching his buttocks,” and their dog indicated it smelled drugs under Eckhart’s seat. According to Eckert’s recently filed lawsuit, local cops and state troopers got permission from a judge to send him to the hospital to get intimately probed for narcotics. Reportedly, a doctor at one hospital declined to search on ethical grounds, but the folks at Gila Regional Medical Center weren’t so concerned. Though he never consented to the search, Eckert spent the next 14 hours being X-rayed, got anally probed twice, and was given an enemathree times then forced to defecate in front of cops and doctors. None of this uncovered any drugs, but Eckert was billed for all these procedures, which cost thousands of dollars.

A startlingly similar story comes from Timothy Young, who was stopped by New Mexico state deputies in October of last year after he neglected to use his blinkers while turning. The very same dog that smelled drugs on Eckert also “found” some contraband in Young’s car, so he too was taken to Gila Medical Center and subjected to a similar battery of anal probing and X-rays. The team at KOB 4, the local news station, discovered that the dog isn’t even certified in the state of New Mexico, but Jacob Sullum at Forbes pointed out that dogs can continue to be used as drug detectors even if they are wrong most of the time, just so long as the cops say that the canines are doing their jobs.

Putting aside questions of the reliability of K-9 units in general and this paranoid dog in particular, even if Young and Eckert had been carrying drugs, would that have justified their treatment at the hands of the authorities and doctors? According to CNN, Eckert has a record for meth possession. Does that make it any more reasonable to treat him in that fashion?

Eckert is asking for $1 million dollars in damages, which he deserves, even if he wins on technical groups. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court confirmed the legality of searches based solely on the indication of a drug-detecting dog. And back in 1985, the court ruled that Border Patrol agents did nothing illegal when they held a woman in a room for 16 hours before she defecated drug-filled balloons into a trashcan. So what’s the legal problem with Eckert’s search, since the police got a warrant? Well, the warrant was good for Luna County, but Gila Medical Center is in Grant County, and the same jurisdictional problem applies in Young’s case. (Young is also suing, using the same lawyer.) Plus, Eckert was prepped for the colonoscopy at 1 AM, and the warrant had expired at 10 PM the previous night.

Both the doctors at Gila Medical Center and the officers involved in these searches will answer to their respective certification boards. Criminal charges also feel warranted, due to the hideously invasive nature of Young and Eckert’s treatment. But officially, it was more a technical failure on the part of the police—legally speaking, there may be nothing morally abhorrent about sexual assault (and yes, having things inserted into your anus against your will counts as sexual assault) if you file all your paperwork correctly and ask a doctor to perform it.

Now on the rest of this week’s bad cops:

- A third resident of New Mexico has come forward with the allegation that she was subjected to an invasive procedure in a search for drugs. On November 7, an unnamed woman told KOB 4 that she was arrested on suspicion of being a drug mule after being “identified” by a drug-sniffing dog while crossing the Mexican border. She apparently was subjected to a genital search by Border Patrol agents against her will, and, when nothing was found, she was taken to a local hospital, where she was given a genital and anal search, an X-ray, and a CAT scan. (No contraband was found.) She is being represented by a lawyer from the New Mexico Civil LIberties Union who claims the officers they never got a search warrant for their incredibly invasive behavior. The woman, who is in her 50s, didn’t want to be named because she says she is a victim of sexual assault. Probably so, but it might be the legal kind—and the kind a hospital charges you for performing.

- After a two-year investigation and a $4.1 million civil settlement, Cook County prosecutors have declined to bring criminal charges against a Chicago cop even though there’s of footage of him firing 16 rounds at an unarmed man. Officer Gildardo Sierra shot three unarmed suspects in six months, two of them fatally, all of them young men in the poor Englewood neighborhood. In one 2011 incident, Sierra had been drinking before his shift and shot a man named Flint Farmer seven times, including three times in the back as the victim was on the ground, a horrific act of violence that was caught on tape. Farmer’s family won $4.1 million from the city (which avoided admitting wrongdoing), but apparently that shooting wasn’t “unreasonable.”

- A 22-year-old Eagle Scout is suing the Manhattan Beach, California, police for $5 million over a gay sex sting gone awry. Charles Samuel Couch seems like an example of everything that’s good about the Boy Scouts—for years, he’s helped those with special needs, including a developmentally disabled son of family friends named D.K. In 2012, Couch took D.K. into a public restroom in Manhattan Beach and stood outside the stall to wait for him. D.K. apparently saw a man looking at him through the stall, so Couch decided they had better hurry away, but once outside they were confronted by several scary-looking men who Couch feared were attempting to kidnap his friend. Turns out the scary-looking men and the creepy guy in the stall were all undercover cops trolling for gay men who sometimes used the restrooms to cruise for sex. The cops decided that Couch’s hasty departure was grounds for an arrest, and even after they learned Couch was just helping D.K. out they still gave him a citation. That meant his mugshot popped up in two different local papers in April 2012, and Couch claims that that humiliated him to such an extent he went to college on the East Coast instead of staying closer to home. Police also allegedly took Couch’s laptop and didn’t return it for an entire year, causing him to drop out of school, and 11 months later, they charged the Boy Scout with assaulting a police officer. (After several hearings, a judge dropped the charges.) Couch says he is filing a federal lawsuit because he is now searching for internships and jobs and he doesn’t deserve to have this salacious-sounding incident on his record.

- A family is suing the city of Champaign, Illinois, over an incident which they describe as an “illegal seizure” of their pet labrador, which was fatally shot by police last November. Kelsey Markou, the family’s teenaged daughter, was walking the dog when an unleashed pit bull drew the lab into a fight. Someone called the police, and officer Andre Davis arrived on the scene, promptly firing seven shots at the dogs. One bullet went through the wall of a nearby apartment building, thankfully not injuring anyone. Davis was suspended for one day over the incident, but that’s not nearly enough for Markou’s mother, Kathy Saathof, who says the city has mostly ignored her complaints—it’s not about the money, she claims, as much as it is about making sure something like this doesn’t happen again.

- After the DC Navy Yard shooting on September 17, there were allegations that a team of highly trained SWAT-like officers were prevented from entering the scene of the violence while there was a chance to bring down the gunman. On Friday, a review by the Capitol Police confirmed that the team was sent back to the Capitol to protect it against a potential attack, though it had never reached the Navy Yard due to traffic. I’m just a simple country lawyer, but why were these guys sent away from a live shooter to guard an area that wasn’t under immediate threat? Indeed, a spokesperson for the Fraternal Order of Police said in September that the team was “prepared to risk their lives to save the lives of the shooter’s victims but were prevented from doing so.”

- No cops did anything particularly great this week, so our Good Cop of the Week is this Australian dude who looks like Ryan Gosling.

Lucy Steigerwald is a freelance writer and photographer. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter: @lucystag.

Previously: Stop-and-Frisk Is Back on Until Next Year