$1.6 million settlement in ‘anal cavity’ search, but are officers still on the job?
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By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE – Hidalgo County and the city of Deming may have to with a Lordsburg man who filed a lawsuit after he was forced to undergo anal cavity searches and a colonoscopy but officials in the two southern New Mexico communities refuse to say whether the police officers involved in the searches are still on the job.
Telephone messages left by to and have gone unreturned and the declined to discuss the case.
Commissioner called New Mexico Watchdog Tuesday morning and said, “I don’t think it would be good for me to comment right now,” saying she has been advised by attorneys to keep mum. “Bear with us and let us feed you that information in time.”
Last week, the lawyer for 64-year-old David Eckert said a portion of the lawsuit was settled; Eckert will get $950,000 from Deming and $650,000 from Hidalgo County.
Eckert named three Deming police officers and three Hidalgo County Sheriff’s officers in his lawsuit, but it’s not known whether the officers have even been disciplined. The case sparked outrage across the country and made headlines around the world.
“This case took my breath away,” said at the in Washington, D.C. “If officers are not fired for this level of abuse, particularly after such a huge settlement in damages, it sends a rather chilling message. It suggests that there is no abuse that will cost an officer his or her job.”
More settlements may be coming.
Agreements may have been reached with the city of Deming and Hidalgo County, but Eckert’s lawsuit still names as defendants the in Silver City, two doctors and a prosecutor in the
Eckert has not talked to reporters but released a statement last week, saying he felt vindicated by the $1.6 million settlement.
“I feel that I got some justice as I think the settlement shows they were wrong to do what they did to me,” Eckert said, . “I truly hope that no one will be treated like this ever again. I felt very helpless and alone on that night.”
According to Eckert’s , Deming police pulled him over in January 2013 after he allegedly failed to make a complete stop in a Walmart parking lot. Police told Eckert to step out of his vehicle and, police say, he appeared to be clenching his buttocks. Believing he had narcotics in his anal cavity, police got a search warrant and took Eckert to a nearby emergency room to perform a cavity search.
The attending physician in Deming refused, saying it was “unethical.”
Undeterred, police took Eckert to another county — Hidalgo — and to the Gila Regional Medical Center where, the lawsuit says, against Eckert’s protestations he was subjected to X-rays, two digital rectal exams, three enemas and forced to defecate in front of the officers and the doctors.
Police then ordered a colonoscopy. Again, Eckert says he did not give his consent, but doctors sedated him and performed the procedure. No drugs were ever found.
To add insult, Eckert later received a $6,000 bill for the colonoscopy.
“I think (the people in Deming) are embarrassed,” said state , a Democrat who lives in Deming and has represented Senate District 35 for 25 years. “It’s going to be tough to give up $950,000.”
Turley says heads should roll, saying in the dozens of cases of alleged abuse he has followed “virtually all of those cases result in the termination of officers.”
“Quite frankly, I’m astonished the chief of police (in Deming) has retained his position,” Turley said in a telephone interview with New Mexico Watchdog.
When news of the Eckert case broke, , “We follow the law in every aspect, and we follow policies and protocols that we have in place.”
In some instances of alleged abuse by public employees, officials refuse to talk to reporters on the grounds that speaking about “personnel” matters may open the local government to litigation from the employees in question.
But Turley isn’t buying it.
“These are public officials who have to answer to the public as to why they not only cost the (city of Deming and Hidalgo County) so much money in damages but also how they allowed this type of rogue police operation to continue,” Turley said. “To claim they’re concerned with litigation is one of the most transparent evasions used by government officials. They are responsible for answering to the misconduct. They are responsible to answering to the public, not only how such a thing could occur but the steps taken to avoid further occurrences.”
For Smith, there’s only one bright spot, and that’s the attending physician in Deming — his name is – who refused to perform the cavity search.
“The common talk around town is that we should give the doctor a bonus,” Smith said. “The (additional) financial and legal exposure would have been phenomenal.”
Contact Rob Nikolewski at and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski
Posted under Capitol Report.
Tags: 3rd Judicial District Attorney's Office, Associated Press, Brandon Gigante, Darr Shannon, Deming Police, George Washington University Law School, Gila Regional Medical Center, Hidalgo County Commission, Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office, John Arthur Smith, Jonathan Turley, KOB-TV, New Mexico Watchdog, Saturino Madero