Pubdate: Mon, 27 Jan 2014
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News, The (VI)
Copyright: 2014 Virgin Islands Daily News
Author: Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times
Page: 21


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

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

"Nothing was found inside of Mr. Eckert," the police report notes. So
after he woke up, he was released - 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-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, aman 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-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 - 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- and billed for the procedures.

Joseph P. Kennedy, Eckert's lawyer, notes that such abuses are not
random but are disproportionately directed at those on the bottom
rungs of society.

"It's a socioeconomic issue," he said. "It's the indignities forced on
people who are not articulate, not educated and don't have access to
legal services."

Police are caught in a difficult balancing act, and obviously the
abuse of Eckert isn't representative. But it is emblematic of
something much larger in America, a kind of inequality that isn't
economic and that we don't much talk about.

It's the kind of inequality that lies behind police stops for "driving
while black," or unequal implementation of stop-and-frisk policies, or
"zero tolerance" school discipline codes that lead many low-income
children to be suspended.

This inequality has a racial element to it, but it is also about
social class (Eckert is white but struggling financially). This is
about Americans living in different worlds. If you're a middle-class
reader, you probably see the justice system as protective. If you're a
young man of color, you may see it as threatening.

So as we discuss inequality in America, let's remember that the divide
is measured in more than dollars. It's also about something as
fundamental as our dignity, our humanity and our access to justice;
it's about the right of working stiffs not to endure forced
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