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Body Cavity Search Leads to Lawsuit Against Texas Hospital

Body Cavity Search Leads to Lawsuit Against Texas Hospital

While drug smuggling is a serious problem for officials, an overzealous customs or police officer can lead to serious financial implications.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

A 54-year-old Lovington, New Mexico, woman filed a lawsuit last December against a Texas hospital, its emergency room physicians, and U. S. customs officials because of a body cavity search to which she was subjected in December of 2012.

While the woman has arranged a settlement with the hospital and its emergency room physicians, the charges against U.S. Customs and Border Protection are still pending according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on the woman’s behalf in federal court in El Paso. The identity of the woman is unknown.

The Lawsuit

According to the lawsuit, the woman was returning from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico when U.S. Customs and Border Protection searched her. The officers then decided to select her for additional screening at the Cordova Bridge in El Paso because a drug sniffing dog jumped on her.

Agents transported the woman, in handcuffs, to El Paso County Hospital (operated by University Medical Center of El Paso) where hospital workers conducted warrantless searches of her body cavities and found no evidence of drug smuggling. She was also subjected to observance of a bowel movement, a CT scan, and other intrusive examinations all without a warrant. The failed to find any drugs, and she was released without any charges being filed. The hospital then sent her a bill for $5,000.

The woman is commended by the ACLU for stepping forward in spite of the trauma and humiliation she suffered. One of the benefits of her actions is the hospital has changed its policy so something like this never happens to anyone else. They are hoping Customs and Border Protection will take responsibility for their actions and cease the performance of abusive and unconstitutional searches.

The Award

UMC has agreed to pay the woman $1.1 million with the hospital paying $125,000, its insurance carrier $475,000, and Texas Tech University covering the remaining $500,000. The hospital’s president stated that the settlement was intended to bring closure for the plaintiff and the issues involved, and not to just make the situation go away. They also wish to ensure their stakeholders the action has resulted in a revision of policies which they will reinforce with all staff members.

A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection stated they do not comment on any pending litigation. He did state in general they do not tolerate any kind of corruption or abuse and always cooperate fully with any criminal or administrative investigations – including allegations of misconduct by any staff member or agent whether they are on duty or not.

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