If you think that protests about overzealous law enforcement are over the top, listen to what unfolded when the police suspected that David Eckert, 54, was hiding drugs in his rectum.
Eckert is a shy junk dealer struggling to get by in Hidalgo County, N.M. He lives a working-class life, drives a 16-year-old pickup and was convicted in 2008 of methamphetamine possession.
Police officers, suspecting he might still be involved in drugs, asked him to step out of his pickup early last year after stopping him for a supposed traffic violation. No drugs or weapons were found on Eckert or in his truck, but a police dog showed interest in the vehicle and an officer wrote that Eckert's posture was "erect and he kept his legs together."
That led the police to speculate that he might be hiding drugs internally, so they took him in handcuffs to a nearby hospital emergency room and asked the doctor, Dr. Adam Ash, to conduct a forcible search of his rectum. Ash refused, saying it would be unethical.
"I was pretty sure it was the wrong thing to do," Ash told me. "It was not medically indicated."
Eckert, protesting all the while, says he asked to make a phone call but was told that he had no right to do so because he hadn't actually been arrested. The police then drove Eckert 50 miles to the emergency room of the Gila Regional Medical Center, where doctors took X-rays of Eckert's abdomen and performed a rectal examination. No drugs were found, so doctors performed a second rectal exam, again unavailing.
Doctors then gave Eckert an enema and forced him to have a bowel movement in the presence of a nurse and policeman, according to a lawsuit that Eckert filed. When no narcotics were found, a second enema was administered. Then a third.
The police left the privacy curtain open, so that Eckert's searches were public, the lawsuit says.
After hours of fruitless searches, police and doctors arranged another X-ray and finally anesthetized Eckert and performed a colonoscopy.
"Nothing was found inside of Mr. Eckert," the police report notes. So after he woke up, he was released -#8212; after 13 hours, two rectal exams, three enemas, two X-rays and a colonoscopy.
The hospital ended up billing Eckert $6,000.
When I came across this case, it seemed far-fetched to me -#8212; more like rape than law enforcement. But the authorities, hospital and doctors all refused to comment, and, a few days ago, the city and county settled the lawsuit by paying Eckert $1.6 million.
This wasn't a unique case. A few months earlier, a man named Timothy Young who lives nearby says that police officers pulled him over, forcibly strip-searched him in a parking lot and then took him to a hospital for a forced X-ray and rectal examination while he was handcuffed. Nothing was found, so he was released -#8212; only to receive a hospital bill.
And a few weeks before Eckert's ordeal, a 54-year-old American woman crossing from Mexico into El Paso was strip-searched and taken to the University Medical Center of El Paso. She says in a lawsuit that, over six hours, she was shackled to an examination table and subjected to rectal and vaginal examinations -#8212; with the door open to compound her humiliation. After a final X-ray and CT scan, all of which turned up nothing, she was released -#8212; and billed for the procedures.