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Federal lawsuit claims anal probe was unethically conducted by NM police, doctors

Lordsburg man subjected to invasive probes

By James Staley @auguststaley on Twitter

Posted: 11/05/2013 06:07:48 PM MST

LAS CRUCES >> Police officers illegally forced a Lordsburg man into an array of invasive medical procedures, performed by unethical doctors, because the officers suspected the man was hiding drugs in his anal cavity, according to a lawsuit filed in Las Cruces federal court.

In the suit, David Eckert says Deming police pulled him over Jan. 2 at a Walmart parking lot for failing to yield at a stop sign. By the time his encounter with the officers ended the next day, Eckert had endured three enemas, two anal probes and a colonoscopy — and authorities found no drugs.

The lawsuit accuses law enforcement officers, a prosecutor and two doctors of violating his constitutional rights, as well as medical negligence, unfair practices, battery and false imprisonment. The suit does not specify a dollar figure Eckert is seeking, but asks for actual, compensatory and punitive damages plus attorney’s fees and other related costs.

The story was first reported by Albuquerque TV station KOB.

The searching began, according to the suit, because one of the Deming police officers was suspicious of Eckert’s posture as he stood outside his car, as though Eckert might be clenching his buttocks.

That was relevant because Eckert has a reputation among area law enforcement officers for hiding drugs in his anal cavity, acknowledged prosecutor Daniel Dougherty, according to a response to the lawsuit filed by his attorney.

Eckert denies that claim. Lordsburg court records show a man, bearing Eckert’s name, with several drug cases against him, some of which have been dismissed.

Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputies responded to the Walmart traffic stop, bringing a drug-detection dog to inspect Eckert’s car. The dog reportedly alerted deputies to the presence of drugs near the driver’s seat in Eckert’s car.

Authorities found no drugs, but took Eckert to the Deming police headquarters, according to the suit. There, the officers obtained a warrant to search Eckert’s anal cavity.

Dougherty, a deputy district attorney in the 6th Judicial District, is named in the suit for his alleged role in approving a questionable search warrant. Dougherty denies approving the warrant Eckert claims allowed officers to search his anal cavity.

As the evening of Jan. 2 continued, Deming police officers then took Eckert to a nearby emergency room, where a doctor refused to conduct an anal cavity search, calling it “unethical,” according to the suit.

After Dougherty advised the Deming police officers to take Eckert to another emergency room, they transported him to Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City.

Eckert’s attorney, Shannon L. Kennedy of Albuquerque, contends the warrant was invalid because it didn’t specify which medical procedures could be used to search Eckert’s body. Further, at least one of those procedures was performed outside the county and time frame dictated by the warrant.

But one of the physicians named in the suit, Dr. Robert Wilcox, said in court filings he “reasonably believed” the warrant to be valid

At the Gila Regional Medical Center, medical personnel performed the six invasive procedures, plus two X-rays — all without Eckert’s consent, the lawsuit claims. Officials again found no drugs in Eckert’s body.

During those procedures, the suit alleges, police officers mocked, harassed and berated Eckert. They also repeatedly misplaced the privacy curtain, exposing Eckert to a public hallway during “intimate and humiliating searches.”

Aside from Dougherty and Wilcox, Eckert is suing the city of Deming; Deming police officers Bobby Orosco, Robert Chavez, FNU (first name unknown) Hernandez; Hidalgo County; Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputies David Arredondo, Robert Rodriguez, Patrick Green; and Dr. Okay H. Odocha, MD.

The physicians, Dougherty and all defendants from Hidalgo County have filed responses in federal court, denying most of the allegations against them. Deming officials have yet to file their responses, but an official told KOB that the city does not comment on pending litigation, a common practice.

James Staley can be reached at 575-541-5476

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