El Paso hospital and doctors compensate New Mexico woman for their role in an illegal body cavity search performed at the border

July 7, 2014

CONTACT: Micah McCoy, ACLU of New Mexico, (505) 266-5915 x1003 or [email protected]
Anna Núñez, ACLU of Texas, (713) 942-8146 x103 or [email protected]

EL PASO — The University Medical Center of El Paso and emergency room physicians have paid a New Mexico woman $1.1 million for their role in the traumatic body cavity searches she suffered at the facility, announced the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and the ACLU of Texas today. The hospital has also agreed to review recent revisions to its internal policies governing law enforcement searches with ACLU lawyers. According to charges in a lawsuit filed in December of last year, medical professionals performed the highly invasive searches without a warrant at the behest of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.

“Despite the trauma and humiliation endured by our client, she had the courage to step forward,” said Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas. “Because of her, the hospital has changed its policy to prevent this from happening to others. Now we hope that CBP will also take responsibility and stop subjecting innocent people to unconstitutional and abusive searches.”

The ordeal began when a K-9 unit allegedly “alerted” on the ACLU’s client, a 54-year-old woman from New Mexico, as she attempted to return to the U.S. from Mexico via a bridge in El Paso. CBP agents frisked and strip-searched her. Despite finding no contraband, they then transported her in handcuffs to the University Medical Center of El Paso, where doctors subjected her to an observed bowel movement, X-ray, speculum exam, rectal exam, vaginal exam, and a CT scan.  After a period of six hours of fruitless searches, the agents released the plaintiff without charge.

The plaintiff is deeply traumatized by the painful cavity searches government agents forced her to endure and continues to suffer emotional and psychological after effects.

“We are very pleased that the hospital has taken steps to alleviate the great wrong done to our client,” said ACLU of New Mexico cooperating attorney Laura Schauer Ives. “We hope this settlement will stand as a powerful reminder to other doctors and medical facilities that they have the right and responsibility to refuse to carry out unjustified, unnecessary, demeaning searches on behalf of law enforcement.”

The plaintiff’s claims against CBP personnel for the illegal searches remain pending in federal court. A copy of the original legal complaint can be read here: http://www.aclutx.org/download/169