2 lawsuits filed in NM over cavity searches
A second lawsuit was filed Friday against southern NM authorities accused of illegally subjecting drug suspects to invasive body cavity searches
By Jeri Clausing
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A second lawsuit was filed Friday against southern New Mexico authorities accused of illegally subjecting drug suspects to invasive body cavity searches. And the attorney who filed the cases says she has been getting calls from others saying they were detained after the uncertified drug-sniffing dog at the heart of both cases raised suspicions.
Albuquerque civil rights attorney Shannon Kennedy filed the new lawsuit against the Hidalgo County sheriff's office on behalf of Timothy Young, who says he was strip-searched in a gas station parking lot, then taken to the hospital for a cavity search. The lawsuit claims the searches were unreasonable, and that the body cavity search was in violation of the search warrant issued. Kennedy says the warrant was issued to search his body but not body cavities.
The sheriff of the border county could not immediately be reached for comment.
Kennedy has also filed suit against the sheriff's office and police in Deming on behalf of a southern New Mexico man who was taken to two hospitals and forced to have anal probes, three enemas, two body X-rays and a colonoscopy following a traffic stop.
The police chief in Deming, which is about 60 miles west of Las Cruces, did not return phone calls. But in response to the lawsuit, the officers said they were lawfully carrying out their duties.
Both men were initially pulled over for traffic violations, and the searches ensued after the county's drug-sniffing dog, Leo, indicated he detected drugs and search warrants were issued. No drugs were found in either case, but both men are being billed by the hospitals, Kennedy said.
"The dog is alerting on the driver's seat, and they are detaining people for hours," Kennedy said.
The lawsuit says Leo is neither adequately trained nor properly certified for narcotics searches. It says there are no state records showing he's properly certified under New Mexico law.
The man in the first lawsuit, David Eckert, pleaded guilty to using methamphetamine in 2008. According to the lawsuit, Hidalgo County sheriff's deputies told Deming police officers that Eckert was known in the area for carrying drugs inside his body. Young, who filed the new lawsuit, has no drug record, according to Kennedy.
The lawsuits have raised questions about drug searches along the border. In addition to the two cases filed by Kennedy, the American Civil Liberties Union says it is preparing to sue the U.S. Customs and Border Protection on behalf of a woman who was crossing into El Paso in December and subjected to invasive searches after a drug dog alerted agents.
Attorney Laura Schauer Ives says the woman was strip-searched at the crossing, then taken to the hospital for vaginal and anal probes, a forced bowel movement, X-rays and scans. No drugs were found, the ACLU said, and the hospital is charging her thousands of dollars. Schauer Ives said the woman's medical records refer to her being brought in both by Border Patrol and customs agents. The group has had a Freedom of Information Request pending since April to identify the officers and which departments of CBP were involved.
A spokesman for the agency, Doug Mosier, said he was unaware of the case and unable to verify such a search occurred at one of the El Paso crossings, which screen thousands of people every day.
Mosier also declined to discuss agency practices and policies on strip searches, citing the pending litigation. But he said the agency believes human rights are important.
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