$1.6 million settlement for man forced by cops to have enemas, colonoscopy
(CNN) — A New Mexico man has settled with local authorities for $1.6 million after claiming police forced him to undergo “multiple digital penetrations and three enemas” on an invalid warrant and without finding any of the illicit drugs they were looking for.
David Eckert “feels gratified that the city and county acted quickly, and … that they recognize his dignity and humanity,” his lawyer, Joe Kennedy, said Thursday. “He expects that it won’t happen to anyone else ever again.”
Hidalgo County, New Mexico, Manager Jose Salazar, the top official in the county involved in the settlement, declined to comment on Thursday. And a CNN call to Deming, New Mexico, police Chief Brandon Gigante was not immediately returned.
Eckert, 54, who sued the county and police departments last year, said that he feels he “got some justice, as I think the settlement shows they were wrong to do what they did to me.”
“I feel grateful to live in the United States,” Eckert said in a statement posted on his lawyer’s Facebook page. “Bad things happen, but in America there is a way to get justice.”
The lawsuit laid out in vivid detail Eckert’s version of his 12-hour ordeal early in January 2013.
According to a police affidavit accompanying that lawsuit, a detective asked a different officer to pull over Eckert’s 1998 brown Dodge pickup truck for not properly stopping at a stop sign.
After Eckert was pulled over, a Deming police officer said that he saw Eckert “was avoiding eye contact with me,” his “left hand began to shake,” and he stood “erect (with) his legs together,” the affidavit stated.
Eckert was told he could go home after a third officer issued him a traffic citation. But before he did, Eckert voluntarily consented to a search of him and his vehicle, according to the affidavit. A K-9 dog subsequently hit on a spot in the Dodge’s driver’s seat, though no drugs were found.
“Hidalgo County K-9 officer did inform me that he had dealt with Mr. Eckert on a previous case and stated that Mr. Eckert was known to insert drugs into his anal cavity and had been caught in Hidalgo County with drugs in his anal cavity,” the affidavit said.
While CNN could not corroborate that claim, a search of Eckert’s criminal history indicated he has been arrested several times on drug possession charges, though many of those charges were dismissed.
Eckert was then put in “investigative detention” and transported around 2 p.m. to the Deming Police Department.
Sometime after that, a judge signed a search warrant “to include but not limited to his anal cavity.”
His next stop was Gila Regional Medical Center, where the lawsuit states “no drugs were found” in “an X-ray and two digital searches of his rectum by two different doctors.” One doctor at this time found nothing unusual in his stool.
Three enemas were conducted on Eckert after 10:20 p.m. A chest X-ray followed, succeeded by a colonoscopy around 1:25 a.m.
Again, in all these tests, authorities found “no drugs” on Eckert, according to his lawsuit.
“(Authorities) acted completely outside the bounds of human decency by orchestrating wholly superfluous physical body cavity searches performed by an unethical medical professional,” the plaintiff asserted.
Because Eckert “merely looked nervous during a traffic stop,” the lawsuit claims that authorities ended up violating his constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures on a number of grounds.
One was that “the language in the warrant was overly broad and, therefore, invalid,” said the plaintiff, asserting that the chest X-ray and colonoscopy, for instance, weren’t related or confined to the “anal cavity.”
Moreover, many of the tests took place outside the 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. timeframe for which any such search warrant (unless otherwise authorized) is legally valid under New Mexico law, according to the lawsuit.
Eckert agreed to the $1.6 million settlement on December 20, according to his attorney, but it became public only in recent days.
The New Mexico man said, in his latest statement, that he wants to maintain his privacy and — to whatever extent he can — not have his “face … be linked with jokes related to anal probing.”
At the same time, Eckert said that he was heartened by those who relayed their sympathy and their own horror stories involving police on online articles about his lawsuit.
“I felt very helpless and alone that night,” he wrote. “The comments I have read on news stories from people have made me feel much better and not so alone.”
By Carma Hassan and Greg Botelho