The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union in federal court in El Paso on behalf of the woman who was stopped as she crossed at the Bridge of the Americas a year ago. Despite the six-hour search at the port and then later at University Medical Center, no drugs were found.
The woman is identified as Jane Doe in the lawsuit.
The search took place at about 2 p.m. Dec. 12, 2012, when the woman was coming back from seeing a family friend, whom she calls “uncle” and tries to visit once a month. As her passport was swiped, a CBP [Customers and Border Protection] officer told her she was “randomly” picked for a secondary inspection.
“One of the agents ran her finger over Ms. Doe’s genital area during the frisk,” the lawsuit said. Then the woman was told to squat as one of the officers “inserted her finger in the crevice of Ms. Doe’s buttocks.” The frisk did not show any evidence of contraband or drugs, the lawsuit said.
Then the woman was told to stand in a line with other people as a drug-sniffing dog walked by. The officer with the dog “hit the ground by her feet, but did not hit the ground by any of the others in the line,” the lawsuit said. “The dog responded by lunging onto Ms. Doe and landing its front paws on her torso.”
The woman was taken to another room and asked to take off her pants and crouch as her anus and vagina were examined with a flashlight, the lawsuit said. The woman, now crying, was taken to University Medical Center after the strip search did not find anything.
“During the car ride to the Medical Center, Ms. Doe asked if the agents had a warrant,” the lawsuit said. “One of them responded that they did not need a warrant.”
While handcuffed to an examination table, the woman was searched again by both officers and Cabanillas and Parsa. She was given a laxative and had a bowel movement in a portable toilet in front of both officers, the lawsuit said
Then the woman’s abdomen was X-rayed, but there were no signs of drugs or any other contraband in the woman’s body. A speculum was used to probe her vagina and Parsa’s fingers were used to inspect both her vagina and rectum while the door to the examining room was left open, the lawsuit said.
The last test was a CT scan of the woman’s abdomen and pelvis, which resulted in no evidence of illegal activity being found.
The lawsuit said after the CT scan one of the officers told the woman she could sign the medical consent form and [Customers and Border Protection] would pay for the exams, but if she did not sign, she would be charged. The woman refused to sign and eventually she was charged more than $5,000 for the examinations. According to the lawsuit, she repeatedly refused to consent to any of the searches.
University Medical Center’s search of patients policy states, “Associates, members of Medical Staff, Residents or Allied Health Professionals may search a patient only when necessary to comply with a search warrant.” Under the subhead procedure, the policy states, “…unless a patient consents, an invasion of the patient’s body to obtain evidence requires a search warrant.”
A warrant was not obtained, the lawsuit said.
“However, in practice, the medical center staff and [Customs and Border Protection] agents routinely conduct invasive cavity searches without warrant, consent or sufficient suspicion to justify the searches,” the lawsuit said.
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