N.M. woman billed $5,000 after cops order warrantless, 'redundant' cavity searches

An unnamed 54-year-old New Mexico woman is suing the El Paso County Hospital District, the University Medical Center of El Paso, and four United States Customs and Border Patrol agents for what her lawsuit stipulates were "multiple, redundant and increasingly intrusive searches."

According to court documents, "Jane Doe" was returning to the United States from Mexico when, at a border station in El Paso, a drug-sniffing dog indicated that she may have been in possession of illicit substances. Then, over "the next six hours, Defendants subjected Ms. Doe to a series of highly invasive searches, any one of which would have been humiliating and demeaning," all of which was done without the benefit of a warrant.

Government agents first subjected her to a strip-search. "Having found nothing," the suit contends, "Defendants next shackled Ms. Doe to an examining table and inserted a speculum into her vagina, performed a rectal exam on her, and conducted a bimanual cavity search of her vagina."

"Ms. Doe was mortified," according the suit. "Defendants did not even have the decency to close the door to the examining room so that Ms. Doe would not also be subjected to being observed by passersby as she endured a forced gynecological exam."

Still having found nothing, they "subjected her to an observed bowel movement." When that observation yielded no evidence of drugs, they X-rayed her.

When that also failed to produce any evidence of drugs, they subjected her to a CT (computed tomography) scan and, again, found no evidence of drugs. At the end of this ordeal, she was released without any charge.

However, despite the fact that these invasive tests were done without her consent or a warrant, she later received a bill from the University Medical Center of El Paso for $5,000.

"What is truly frightening about this incident is that it could have happened to anyone," Laura Schauer Ives, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, told the Associated Press.

"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."

["Police Officer Arresting A Woman With Handcuffs" on Shutterstock]