Hospital settles body cavity probe lawsuit with NM woman for $1.1M

Updated: 07/07/2014 10:19 PM | Created: 07/07/2014 10:00 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4

The University Medical Center of El Paso and emergency room physicians have paid a New Mexico woman $1.1 million for their alleged role in body cavity searches at the facility.

The hospital has also agreed to review recent revisions to its internal policies governing law enforcement searches with ACLU lawyers.

According to charges in a lawsuit filed in December 2014, medical professionals performed the invasive searches without a warrant at the request of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.

The ordeal began when a K-9 unit allegedly “alerted” on the ACLU’s client, a 54-year-old woman from New Mexico, as she attempted to return to the U.S. from Mexico via a bridge in El Paso.

The suit states U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents frisked and strip-searched her.

Despite finding no contraband, they then transported her in handcuffs to the University Medical Center of El Paso, where doctors subjected her to an observed bowel movement, X-ray, speculum exam, rectal exam, vaginal exam, and a CT scan.

After a period of six hours of searches, the agents released the plaintiff without charge.

James N. Valenti, President and CEP, of the University Medical Center of El Paso released the following statement: "The expectation we have of everyone who works at University Medical Center is that every patient will be treated with respect and dignity. In fact, that expectation is among our organization's core values. 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. 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. We are here solely to tend to their needs and to do our best to ensure that they have a good outcome.”

Litigation in this case against U.S. Customs and Border Protection continues.

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