Settlement reached in invasive search lawsuit

Settlement reached in invasive search lawsuit
Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 3:40pm

A settlement has been reached between a New Mexico woman and the hospital staff she says performed invasive cavity searches without her consent.

Court documents show the deal was reached Thursday between University Medical Center of El Paso, its Board of Managers, and the two doctors accused of performing the searches at the direction of Customs and Border Protection officers.

It all started when the Lovington, New Mexico woman was crossing the Paso del Norte Bridge into El Paso and a drug-sniffing dog alerted to drugs on her.

"The agents ran their fingers over her genitalia and checked inside of her pants," said Doe's attorney, Laura Schauer Ives, of the ACLU in a December interview. "She was asked to undress. She was asked to squat and the agents peered into her cavities with flashlights and pressed their fingers into her genitalia."

The woman, in the complaint, says the searches spanned over six hours at the port, and eventually at the hospital, where she underwent x-rays, another cavity search, an observed bowel movement, and a CT scan.

No substances were ever found.

The woman hasn't revealed her identity because she says she's a victim of sexual assault.

Her attorneys wouldn't speak to the details of the settlement, saying it has yet to be approved by the court.

"UMC's settlement of this case was not intended to 'make it go away.' It was meant to bring closure for the plaintiff and to the issues that she alleged and to ensure our stakeholders that we have taken steps to tighten our policies and reinforce them with staff," said University Medical Center of EL Paso CEO Jim Valenti.

"We also intend to make sure that area law enforcement agencies understand that UMC's only concern when patients are brought to us in their custody is patient care. We do not see those patients as prisoners," said Valenti.

"We are here solely to tend to their needs and to do our best to ensure that they have a good outcome. We are sorry that the plaintiff believes we did otherwise. That was never our intent," he said.

Officers from Customs and Border Protection named in the lawsuit have not responded yet.

CBP spokesperson Roger Maier says he cannot comment on pending litigation.

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