We previously discussed the horrific case out of New Mexico involving David Eckert involving a series of demeaning and invasive cavity searches of an innocent man stopped along a road. That abuse cost the city and county $1.8 million in a recent settlement. However, recent reports indicate that neither the sheriff nor this deputies were disciplined. Now there is a new lawsuit against Hidalgo County that suggests that officers are “cavity happy” in caring about such searches — a frightening prospect for citizens and a ruinous prospect for county taxpayers.
In the earlier case, David Eckert filed a federal case against the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, police officers with the City of Deming and medical professionals at the Gila Regional Medical Center. Eckert was stopped on a minor traffic violation and accused by an officer of holding his buttocks. What followed was a nightmare where officers and doctors subjected Eckert to outrageous abuse as they searched for drugs or contraband in his body. Before the police released him after finding no drugs, he would endure five manual penetrations; three forced defecations before witnesses; and an intrusive surgery under sedation.
The new lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque accuses the police of another traffic stop where Lori Ford, 54, and a friend (who was driving) were ordered out of the car for speeding. Police asked if they could search her car and Ford refused. Police then ordered a K-9 team to the location and seized the car to allow them to secure a search warrant — which required two hours. So you can refuse a search by police but you will have to wait for two hours. I previously wrote about how such refusals for consent can trigger hostile or abuse responses from police. In this case, Ford was charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia — items police said were found in the car. However, those charges were shortly later dropped for failure of the police to produce the evidence. Wouldn’t that alone be a disciplinary offense for officers? Either they lied about the evidence or they lost evidence to a crime. Yet, again there is no indication of any discipline in Hidalgo county.
Four days later, Ford tried to retrieve the vehicle and says that officers stripped her naked and put her through a cavity search. Worse yet, she says that she was take to room with several male officers for searches of “anal and vaginal” cavities.
Lordsburg Police Chief Marcus Martinez has refused to comment about the controversy. One would think that a sheriff has an obligation to tell the public something about such a chilling account of abuse. Police often hold immediate press conferences to herald arrests and discuss the alleged crimes of citizens. Yet, they go into radio silence when officers are accused even though there is no pending criminal case. We saw recently how in Dallas (after police were caught in false statements) the Chief of Police responded by barring interviews with officers immediately after shootings to allow them to review the evidence and work on their accounts.
We have not seen the answer to the latest lawsuit but it obviously raised serious concerns over a pattern of abuse in this county. I would have expected a public outcry for answers from this sheriff on these latest allegations and disclosure of the record of any discipline for officers involving in these cases.