Pubdate: Thu, 16 Jun 2016
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2016 The Arizona Republic
Author: Daniel Gonzalez


In October 2014, Ashley Cervantes crossed from Nogales, Arizona, to 
Nogales, Sonora, to have breakfast at one of her favorite restaurants.

But on the way back home, the U.S. citizen was confronted at a port 
of entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers who accused 
her of carrying drugs.

Over the next seven hours while in custody of CBP officers, she was 
handcuffed to a chair, checked by drug-sniffing dogs, asked to squat 
so a female investigator could visually inspect her, and then taken 
to Holy Cross Hospital, where a male physician probed her vagina and 
anus for drugs as part of an unwarranted body-cavity search, 
according to a lawsuit filed in federal court on June 8.

No drugs were ever found and no charges were ever filed against her, 
the suit says. Cervantes, now 21, was 19 at the time.

"For the remainder of her life, (Cervantes) will always remember that 
her first pelvic and rectal exams were under the most inhumane 
circumstances imaginable to a U.S. citizen at a hospital on U.S. 
soil," said the lawsuit.

Cervantes filed the lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border 
Protection and Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales.

It is the second lawsuit in two years accusing CBP officers of 
conducting an unwarranted body-cavity search.

CBP officials said it is the agency's policy not to comment on 
pending litigation.

An administrator at Holy Cross Hospital referred questions to the 
hospital's parent company, Tenet Healthcare Corp. in Dallas.

Gary Hopkins, a spokesman, said the company would not comment because 
the claims raised in the lawsuit predate Tenet's ownership. Tenet 
assumed majority ownership of Carondelet Health Network of Southern 
Arizona, which includes Holy Cross, in September 2015.

The lawsuit said that Cervantes was released after being held for 
more than seven hours.

Brian Marchetti, a Tucson attorney who filed the lawsuit in federal 
court in Tucson, said Cervantes told officers she wasn't carrying 
drugs or contraband and never consented to be searched.

"She certainly never consented to having a full cavity search," 
Marchetti said in an interview. "We don't believe she consented to 
any of this treatment. She denied from the word go being a carrier of 
drugs internally or of having any contraband on her of any kind."

In a letter Carondelet sent to Marchetti in March 2015, hospital 
officials said Cervantes signed a "Conditions of Admissions" 
document. The letter also said that the emergency-room physician who 
conducted the body-cavity examination is not an employee of the hospital.

"Our review of your concerns found that Ms. Cervantes was in the 
custody of the United States Custom(s) and Border Protection, and 
that we provided care according to our process for patients in 
custody," said the letter, signed by Ann E. Ross, risk manager at 
Carondelet Health Network.

Ross did not return a call for comment.

In the lawsuit, Cervantes said she had crossed the border to have 
breakfast in Nogales, Sonora and was returning on foot through a port 
of entry in Nogales, Arizona, when the incident occurred.

After identifying herself as a U.S. citizen and showing her birth 
certificate and Arizona ID card, Cervantes was confronted by U.S. 
Customs and Border Protection officers who accused her of possessing 
illegal drugs, the lawsuit said.

CBP officers took Cervantes to a detention room where she was 
handcuffed to a chair and held for several hours for questioning, the 
lawsuit said. During the questioning, CBP officers used more than one 
CBP K9 dog to sniff her person for drugs, according to the lawsuit. 
The lawsuit further states that it is against CBP policy to use 
drug-sniffing dogs on a person.

The lawsuit claims that Cervantes was then taken to a separate room, 
patted down and asked to squat so female investigators could visually 
inspect her.

Although no drugs were found, CBP officers transported her in 
handcuffs to the Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales to undergo X-rays. 
The lawsuit states that a CBP officer signed an Immigration Health 
Services Treatment Authorization Request form alleging she was a 
"potential internal carrier of (a) foreign substance."

"It is unclear what possible basis existed for CBP to use an 
Immigration Health Services' form or procedure on a citizen of the 
United States," the lawsuit states.

At the hospital, however, no X-rays were conducted, according to the 
lawsuit. Instead, a physician "forcefully and digitally probed 
Ashley's vagina and anus" as part of a body-cavity search, the lawsuit states.

"Ashley was shocked and humiliated by these exceedingly intrusive 
searches. That an audience of CBP Agents and Holy Cross staff 
observed her being probed compounded her feeling of degradation," the 
lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims CBP officers violated her constitutional rights 
against unreasonable search and seizure.

Among those named in the lawsuit are CBP Agent Shameka Leggett, and 
Patrick F. Martinez, the Holy Cross physician who conducted the 
body-cavity search.
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