Hospital settles with woman over search

EL PASO, Texas (AP) – An El Paso hospital and its emergency room physicians have reached a $1.1 million settlement with a New Mexico woman who sued them and U.S. customs officials after she was subjected to a body cavity search, according to a Monday statement by her attorneys.

The allegations against U.S. Customs and Border Protection made in the 54-year-old woman’s federal lawsuit are pending, according to the statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

The Texas and New Mexico chapters of the ACLU filed the lawsuit last December on behalf of the woman, who was not identified.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in El Paso said the U.S. citizen was “brutally” searched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in December 2012 after being selected for additional random screening at the Cordova Bridge in El Paso when a drug sniffing dog jumped on her. The woman was returning from a visit to a recently deported family friend in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the lawsuit said.

Agents quickly stripped and searched her, followed by body-cavity searches, but found no evidence of drugs, court documents said. The woman was transported in handcuffs to the University Medical Center of El Paso, where doctors subjected her to an observed bowel movement, a CT scan and other intrusive examinations without a warrant, the lawsuit alleged.

No drugs were found and the woman was released without charges, the ACLU said.

“Despite the trauma and humiliation endured by our client, she had the courage to step forward,” said Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas. “Because of her, the hospital has changed its policy to prevent this from happening to others. Now, we hope that CBP will also take responsibility and stop subjecting innocent people to unconstitutional and abusive searches.”

A request of the hospital administration for comment drew no response Monday.

Roger Maier, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation. In general, Maier said, “we do not tolerate corruption or abuse within our ranks, and we fully cooperate with any criminal or administrative investigations of alleged misconduct by any of our personnel, on or off-duty.”

According to the agency’s website, CBP officers are expected to “conduct their duties in a professional manner and to treat each traveler with dignity and respect.” The website says agents “use diverse factors to refer individuals for targeted examinations.”

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