Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dystopian Movies Have Nothing on Reality

Stories of police over-reach and prevarication are thick on the ground these days. Just from the past couple of months, we have the following:
Tallahassee police stand by the tactics that led to a woman’s cheekbone being broken when two cops slammed her face first into their patrol car and then into the pavement.
Oklahoma City police charged environmental protesters not with trespassing, but with a “terrorism hoax” for using glitter on a banner.
New Orleans police can arrest you if you’re carrying “more than five” condoms. (Although other sizes of packages are available, a standard box contains a dozen condoms.)
Pennsylvania state police arrested a New York couple and kept them incarcerated for a month before finally determining that the white powdery substance in the baggie was not, in fact, cocaine, but soap.
Durham, NC, police are trying to get us to believe that a 17-year-old suspect fatally shot himself in the head although he’d been searched for weapons and his hands were handcuffed behind his back.
Dallas police, according to an objective witness, shot an unarmed suspect whose hands were in the air.
New York police (well, the DA’s office, actually) charged an unarmed man with assault because they (the police) shot two bystanders while aiming at him.
Houston police handcuffed a 13-year-old girl and turned her over to Child Protective Services despite the fact that her mother had signed notarized papers granting guardianship of the girl to her dance instructors, who were taking her for training in Houston. Oh, she’s white and the instructors are black, but that’s completely coincidental, right?
Milwaukee police have been convicted of multiple illegal strip searches against both men and women.
San Francisco police sent a young African-American man to the hospital, used batons on bystanders who tried to intervene in the beating, and arrested four people, two of them for felonies. The alleged crime that started it all? Riding a bicycle on the sidewalk.
A Haskell, Arkansas, cop chased and tased a young woman for (get this) refusing to show him her breasts.
And these are just the stories that caught Curmie’s eye over a three-month period. (Some of the actual events happened earlier; they passed into the public consciousness more recently.)

OK, I know, some of these stories might turn out to be a little less problematic than they currently seem. But all of them? I doubt it.

Didn't this used to be a thing?
Still, there are two similar but apparently discrete stories that make all of these seem pretty insignificant by comparison. Both happened about a year ago, and are making news now because of ensuing lawsuits. Both involve New Mexico residents suspected—incorrectly, as it turns out—of carrying drugs. What happened to them later is pretty similar—and terrifying—too, but we’ll get to that in due course.

David Eckert pulled out of a Walmart parking lot in Deming, New Mexico, and made a rolling stop, so police stopped him. This much doesn’t seem to be in dispute. The police, however, believed his “posture to be erect and he kept his legs together,” which they (and an overly-compliant judge) decided was probable cause for an anal cavity search for narcotics. Even though there was a warrant, the doctor on duty at the local emergency room refused to perform the procedure, claiming it to be “unethical.” Undeterred, the cops scoured the countryside and finally found someone less bothered by medical ethics if there was money to be made: the fun folk at Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City.

Eckert was admitted, then subjected to the following array of increasingly invasive procedures, accompanied (no doubt) with increasing frustration and desperation on the part of the beloved boys in blue:
1. Eckert's abdominal area was x-rayed; no narcotics were found.
2. Doctors then performed an exam of Eckert's anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.
3. Doctors performed a second exam of Eckert's anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.
4. Doctors penetrated Eckert's anus to insert an enema. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found.
5. Doctors penetrated Eckert's anus to insert an enema a second time. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found.
6. Doctors penetrated Eckert's anus to insert an enema a third time. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found.
7. Doctors then x-rayed Eckert again; no narcotics were found.
8. Doctors prepared Eckert for surgery, sedated him, and then performed a colonoscopy where a scope with a camera was inserted into Eckert's anus, rectum, colon, and large intestines. No narcotics were found.
I don’t know about you, Gentle Reader, but if I were the one conducting this investigation, I would have stopped somewhere around the first anal probe, even if I were some testosterone-addled backwoods idiot in a cop suit. (Apologies for the foregoing redundancy.)

But that’s not all. Eckert’s lawyer argues with what seems to this layman’s eye to be considerable justification that the warrant was overly broad and lacked probable cause. Moreover, Chris Ramirez of KOB TV News points out that
…the warrant was only valid in Luna County, where Deming is located. The Gila Regional Medical Center is in Grant County. That means all of the medical procedures were performed illegally and the doctors who performed the procedures did so with no legal basis and no consent from the patient.
In addition, even if the search warrant was executed in the correct New Mexico county, the warrant expired at 10 p.m. Medical records show the prepping for the colonoscopy started at 1 a.m. the following day, three hours after the warrant expired.
Oops. That’s still not all, but be patient, Gentle Reader.

There’s another case, this one involving an unidentified 54-year-old woman. She was returning to the United States from Mexico, having visited a friend. At a border checkpoint in El Paso, Texas, a drug-sniffing dog seemed to have detected illegal substances. (There’s some dispute over whether even that part of the government’s story is legit.) And here we go again, with the exception that it was US Customs and Border Control agents, not a gaggle of small-town yahoos, who were in charge of the completely over-the-top, baseless, arrogant humiliation of a citizen for no reason other than their perceived ability to get away with it.

According to “Jane Doe’s” lawsuit, here’s what happened:
Over the course of 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. First, government agents stripped searched Ms. Doe and made a visual and manual inspection of her genitals and anus. Finding nothing, Defendants next subjected her to an observed bowel movement. When that procedure yielded no evidence of drugs, Defendants X-rayed Ms. Doe. Having found nothing, 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. Still not satisfied, Defendants subjected Ms. Doe to a CT [computed tomography] scan and again found no evidence of drugs.
She was then released without charge. So that makes everything better, right?

I mentioned one more thing. It’s this: both hospitals—Gila Regional Medical Center and the University Medical Center of El Paso—sent the bills totaling several thousand dollars to the victims, and apparently the Gila folks are aggressively pursuing Mr. Eckert for payment. These people were subjected to involuntary, invasive, warrantless, humiliating searches that found nothing, and these bastards are sending them the bill? This sounds like something out of Stalinist Russia, China in the Cultural Revolution, or maybe some dystopian movie (wasn’t there some variation on this theme in “Brazil”? Curmie hasn’t seen that film in too long…).

Curmie would like desperately to believe that the details of these cases are exaggerated, that this kind of stuff can’t possibly happen. But he knows better. He’s pretty sure both these cases happened pretty much the way they were described by the victims (OK, the alleged victims). In one case, there was no warrant at all; in the other, neither the time nor place of the exam were covered even by the hastily-issued warrant which seems to have been granted without anything in the same zip code as probable cause. Why? Because that’s how far too many police in this country operate, and have been allowed to operate. That medical authorities would play along and actually facilitate and exacerbate the government’s violations of civil liberties... alas, all too predictable.

The lawsuit in Jane Doe’s case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and New Mexico. “What is truly frightening about this incident is that it could have happened to anyone,” said ACLU-NM Legal Director Laura Schauer Ives. “The failed drug war and militarized border region have created an environment in which law enforcement officials increasingly inflict extreme and illegal searches on innocent Americans. We need to ensure that no one is ever again subjected to a nightmare like our client suffered.”

Yeah, what she said.

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