The Associated Press reports that the city of Deming, New Mexico, where David Eckert was pulled over for a rolling stop last January, and nearby Hidalgo County have agreed to settle a civil rights lawsuit he filed after cops from those two jurisdictions forced him to undergo a humiliating exploration of his digestive tract. The city and county will pay Eckert $1.6 million, which amounts to $200,000 for each of the increasingly intrusive searches performed on Eckert at Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City: two X-rays, two digital probes of his anus, three enemas, and a colonoscopy, none of which discovered the slightest trace of the drugs that police claim to have thought he was hiding inside himself. Eckert, whose case was first noted here by Brian Doherty, also sued various Deming and Hidalgo County police officers; the hospital, which billed him more than $6,000 for these indignities; and two physicians, Robert Wilcox and Okay Odocha, who executed the elaborate assault under the cover of medicine.
"It was medically unethical and unconstitutional," Shannon Kennedy, Eckert's attorney, told A.P. "He feels relieved that this part is over and believes this litigation might make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else." Eckert added:
I feel that I got some justice as I think the settlement shows they were wrong to do what they did to me. I truly hope that no one will be treated like this ever again. I felt very helpless and alone on that night.
Although this measure of justice is welcome, it is too bad we may never get a definitive ruling on the legality of Eckert's dehumanizing ordeal, which was inflicted based on a search warrant that police obtained by claiming a drug-detecting dog "alerted" to the driver's seat of Eckert's pickup truck. They also said he seemed nervous and was standing with his legs together, which suggested to them that he was concealing contraband up his butt. That last detail received a lot of attention, but it seems clear that the warrant would not have been issued without the alleged dog alert. The Supreme Court has said such evidence by itself provides probable cause for a search unless the suspect can show the dog is unreliable—an opportunity that does not arise until long after the search is carried out.