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$1.6 Million Settlement for Police Body Cavity Search and Forced Colonoscopy of New Mexico Man

$1.6 Million Settlement for Police Body Cavity Search and Forced Colonoscopy of New Mexico Man

A 54 year-old resident of Lordsburg, Hidalgo County New Mexico filed a civil rights complaint in the District Court for the District of New Mexico against the city of Deming, three Deming police officers, three Hidalgo county sheriff’s officer’s, a Deputy District Attorney, the Gila Regional Medical Center, and two physicians. The sixteen count complaint alleged violations of protected federal rights including protected First Amendment activities as well as claims of false arrest and unreasonable search and seizure.

On September 6, 2012, David Eckert’s car was topped by Hidalgo county police officer Robert Rodriguez for a cracked windshield, the stop occurred within view of Eckert’s home. When Eckert’s partner approached the stop on foot, Rodriguez ordered her to leave. Rodriguez then proceeded to search Eckert’s car because Eckert’s “hands were shaking.”

Rodriguez issued a “warning” for the windshield violation and told Eckert he could leave but continued talking to him, later claiming he (Rodriguez) suspected Eckert of having drugs in the car. The car was seized by Hidalgo county officer Patrick Green who had deployed his canine “Leo” who “alerted” to the presence of narcotics. A warrant was not issued for the search of the car until September 7, 2012. No illegal substances were found during that search.

On January 2, 2013, Deming police officers stopped Eckert’s car in a Wal-Mart parking lot alleging he failed to stop for a stop sign. Officer Robert Chavez then patted Eckert down because Eckert’s “posture was erect and he kept his legs together.” Another officer issued a traffic citation and told Eckert he could leave. However, Chavez continued to interrogate Eckert and searched the car without Eckert’s consent.

Then, officers Patrick Green and David Arrendondo arrived on the scene with a narcotics sniffing canine “Leo” resulting in a false “alert” for drugs. Officers Bobby Orosco and Arrendondo informed Chavez falsely that Eckert was known in Hidalgo County to insert drugs in his anal cavity. Eckert was cuffed and transported to Deming PD at 2:00 PM on the same day, January 2, 2013.

Eckert’s car was seized. He refused a phone call. No contraband was found. District Attorney Daniel Dougherty approved a search including Eckert’s anal cavity with no mention of any medical procedure to be used. A Luna Magistrate Judge signed the warrant limiting the time of search from 6:00 AM though 10:00 PM, January 2, 2013. Officer Chavez transported Eckert to the Deming Emergency Room where the attending physician refused to conduct the anal search because it was “unethical.”

Chavez next transported Eckert to the Gila Regional Medical Center (Gila) in Grant County. The city of Deming is in Luna County where the warrant was authorized.

Gila physician Dr. Robert Wilcox ordered x-rays of Eckert’s abdomen. No “foreign objects” were found. Dr. Wilcox then performed a digital rectal exam on Eckert reporting “something soft” that could have been stool.

Dr. Okay Odocka next performed a second digital rectal exam on Eckert reporting only stool could be felt. Dr. Odocka ordered enemas to be given Eckert until all results were clear. Eckert was forced several times to have bowel movements in the presence of a nurse and Chavez. Eckert was x-rayed a second time with no contraband found. Dr. Odocka then ordered Eckert to be prepared for surgery at 1:00 AM on January 3, 2013. At 2:15 AM a colonoscopy was completed illegally according to the terms of the Luna County Magistrate’s warrant.

Eckert claimed throughout the Gila Regional Medical Center visit, officers Chavez and Hernandez harassed, mocked, and berated Eckert’s compromised position, and continually misplaced a privacy curtain. Gila Medical Center billed Eckert for the services provided at the request of law enforcement.

Eckert settled for 1.6 million dollars on December 20, 2013: “I think the settlement shows they were wrong to do what they did to me.”

See: Eckert v. City of Deming, USDC, Case No. 2:13-cv-00727-JB/WPL, (D. N.M. 2013)

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Related legal case

Eckert v. City of Deming