A Lovington, New Mexico woman has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol after she was subjected to a horrifying 6 hour search for drugs that included vaginal and anal cavity searches and made her feel like an “animal.”
The suit also includes the University Medical Center which partook in the search and even forced her to have an observed bowel movement while federal agents looked on. They also subjected her to unwarranted CT scans, X-Rays, a speculum exam, and a vaginal exam. Her suit claims that she was “violated” by the hospital then stuck with the $5,000 tab for it all.
The woman is only identified as Jane does, 54, in the suit which is asking for an unspecified amount of money and an end to the policy that allows federal agents to probe people’s inner cavities with their fingers and tools when searching for drugs. The lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday, names the El Paso County Hospital District’s Board of Managers, University Medical Center, Drs. Michael Parsa and Christopher Cabanillas, two unknown supervising U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and two other CBP officers only identified by their last names of Portillo and Herrera as defendants.
(Read More: Cops “Anally Probe” Woman In New Mexico, No Warrant)
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed the lawsuit in El Paso on behalf of the plaintiff, who was stopped when trying to cross the Bridge of The Americas almost a year ago and in spite of a 6 hour search no drugs or contraband was found on her.
The search was conducted at around 2 P.M. on December 12, 2012 while the plaintiff was returning home from a routine visit to her “uncles” house, who’s actually a family friend. She said that a CBP agent took her passport then told her that she was “randomly picked” to be searched for contraband in a secondary inspection. She said at this point the two agents frisked her through her clothing and that “One of the agents ran her finger over Ms. Doe’s genital area during the frisk,” according to the lawsuit.
She was then forced to squat while one of the agents slid their finger in between the crevice of her buttocks, even though the fr5isk didn’t turn up any evidence of drugs, the lawsuit claimed. She was then told to stand in line with others while a drug sniffing dog passed them by and inspected them.
The lawsuit says that the officer who was handling the dog “hit the ground by her feet, but did not hit the ground by any of the others in the line,” and that
“The dog responded by lunging onto Ms. Doe and landing its front paws on her torso.”
The “signal” from the dog is what prompted agents to continue their search and the woman was brought to a different room and forced to remove her pant and crouch while her vagina and anus were inspected with a flash light. She was then taken to University Medical Center for an even more extensive search after the others didn’t turn up anything. during the ride to the hospital she asked if the agents had a warrant and according to the lawsuit they replied that they didn’t need one.
Once at the hospital she was handcuffed to an exam table and searched again by the 2 agents, then given a laxative and forced to have a bowel movement on a portable toilet while they watched. Her vagina was then probed with a speculum and agent Parsa used her fingers to check the woman’s anal cavity for drugs while the door to the exam room was open. She was also given an X-Ray and a CT Scan, neither of which turned up any drugs or contraband.
At this point, according to the lawsuit, she “felt as if she was being treated less than human, like an animal.”
After the CT Scan was complete one of the agents told her that if she signed a consent form that CBP would cover the costs of the hospital trip, otherwise she would be charged. She refused, then received a $5,000 bill for everything from the hospital.
In a press release, Laura Schauer Ives who’s the Legal Director for the ACLU in New Mexico said that “These extreme and illegal searches deeply traumatized our client,” also saying “The fact that our government treated an innocent 54-year-old woman with such brutality and inhumanity should outrage all Americans. We must ensure that government agents never put another person through a nightmare like this ever again.
A spokesman for the CBP said that he wasn’t allowed to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but he said this in a statement;
“As a practice CBP does not comment on pending litigation,” the statement said. “CBP stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of our mission, and the overwhelming majority of CBP employees and officers perform their duties with honor and distinction, working tirelessly every day to keep our country safe. We do not tolerate corruption or abuse within our ranks, and we fully cooperate with any criminal or administrative investigations of alleged misconduct by any of our personnel, on or off-duty.”
The woman repeatedly refused consent for the searches, according to the lawsuit, and a warrant was never obtained.
The hospital also wouldn’t speak tot he specifics of the case, but its policy on conducting searches states “Associates, members of Medical Staff, Residents or Allied Health Professionals may search a patient only when necessary to comply with a search warrant.” Under the subhead procedure, the policy states, “…unless a patient consents, an invasion of the patient’s body to obtain evidence requires a search warrant.”
The lawsuit claims that even after the plaintiff expressed concern and was distraught about the extremely invasive searches that a hospital employee told her that “these procedures were routinely followed when an individual is brought in by CBP agents.”
Ives said during a phone interview that “The fact that this happened to a 54-year-old woman should outrage anyone. She did ask to talk to an attorney and she did ask for a warrant. I don’t know what guarantees there are to our rights other than a lawsuit like this one that hold the government agencies responsible.”
The full text of the lawsuit can be found here.