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Drug Search Lawsuit Objects To X-ray, CT

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Here’s an incendiary headline: “Drug Warriors Kidnap and Sexually Assault a Woman After Getting Permission From a Dog.”

That’s the title of a post by Jacob Sullum last week on Forbes online and the Reason magazine Hit & Run blog. It details the experience of a woman who, according to a lawsuit filed on her behalf last week by the American Civil Liberties Union, was subjected to six hours of searches, including an X-ray and a CT scan, based on an apparent alert by a drug-sniffing dog.

The searches found no drugs.

The lawsuit identifies the woman as a 54-year-old U.S. citizen living in New Mexico  and calls her Jane Doe. Among the defendants are the University Medical Center of El Paso, Texas, the El Paso County Hospital District, and two medical center doctors.

The lawsuit says the woman was returning from visiting a friend in Mexico when the drug dog “alerted” at the U.S. border in El Paso. She was subjected to a pat-down search, a strip search, handcuffing, repeated searches of her anus and vagina, and the X-ray and CT scans, the suit says. It says Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents also forced her to take a laxative and produce a bowel movement in their presence.

The lawsuit also makes the following allegation:

After the CT scan, a CBP agent presented Ms. Doe with a choice: she could either sign a medical consent form, despite the fact that she had not consented, in which case CBP would pay for the cost of the searches; or if she refused to sign the consent form, she would be billed for the cost of the searches.

According to the lawsuit, she refused to sign, and the medical center and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center did indeed bill her for more than $5,000.

The lawsuit says CBP agents obtained neither a warrant nor the woman’s permission for the body cavity searches or the medical procedures. It says the medical center’s policy “does not permit an invasion of a person’s body for purposes of a search without either consent or a search warrant. However, in practice, the Medical Center staff and CBP agents routinely conduct invasive cavity searches without a warrant, consent, or sufficient suspicion to justify the searches.”

According to the Associated Press, a medical center spokeswoman said, “Hospital policy is to obtain consent from all patients who receive medical services at UMC.”

Neither the hospital nor any of the other defendants commented on the specific allegations.

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Farmers Insurance sues two California radiology companies over MRI and CT scans. Farmers says the scans never happened. For details, see our Facebook page.

Related CME seminar (up to 20.25 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): Computed Body Tomography

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