Three cops in NM’s infamous anal cavity search case still on job
STILL ON THE JOB: At least three officers involved in a series of anal cavity searches of a New Mexico man suspected of carrying drugs are still on the force, despite a $1.6 million settlement in the victim’s favor.
By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s one of the most shocking and infamous cases to ever come out of New Mexico: A man, falsely suspected of carrying drugs, forced to undergo multiple anal cavity searches.
Now, a year and half after the incident and six months after a settlement of $1.6 million in local taxpayer money was announced, New Mexico Watchdog has learned at least three police officers involved in the case are still on the job, while the status of three others remains a secret.
Deming Police Chief Brandon Gigante told New Mexico Watchdog all three officers in his department who were listed as defendants in a subsequent lawsuit are on active duty. Gigante wouldn’t say why or reveal if the officers were disciplined.
“That is a personnel matter,” Gigante said in a telephone interview.
Three members of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office were also listed in the lawsuit, but county officials refused to answer any questions about their status in the aftermath of the case involving Lordsburg, N.M., resident David Eckert.
A settlement was announced in January in which the 64-year-old Eckert will get $950,000 from the city of Deming and $650,000 from Hidalgo County — a total of $1.6 million for which taxpayers in the two communities are responsible.
According to the lawsuit, in early 2013 Eckert was pulled over by Deming police allegedly for not coming to a full stop at a stop sign in a Walmart parking lot in Deming. Hidalgo County sheriff’s officers also arrived on the scene.
Authorities suspected Eckert was carrying drugs inside his anal cavity and over a 14-hour period subjected Eckert to two rounds of X-rays and three enemas and took him to a hospital in another county where Eckert was forced to undergo a colonoscopy.
No drugs were found. Eckert also received a bill for $6,000 for the colonoscopy. The case made international headlines.
Two messages left with Hidalgo County Sheriff Saturnino Madero have gone unreturned.
Hidalgo County Commissioner Darr Shannon told New Mexico Watchdog, “I don’t know (about the status of the officers). I hate to admit it, but I don’t know anything … A county commissioner cannot have anything to do with personnel matters.”
Hidalgo County Commission Chairman Ed “Bim” Kerr referred questions to the county manager, Jose Salazar, who referred questions to the county’s attorney in the Eckert case, Damian Martinez.
“I can’t give any comment as to that,” Martinez said when contacted by New Mexico Watchdog.
“I know where you’re coming from, but I’m (part of a) private law firm and my law firm’s policy is we don’t discuss litigation,” Martinez said. “Sorry I couldn’t help you, but I like your website.”
If public money has been spent, don’t taxpayers have a right to know if the officers involved are still on the force?
“It’s (Madero’s) department,” Shannon said. “I would be like you, I would be wanting to find out for the public, but I’m here to tell you government works in a way that is extremely odd, especially county government.”
New Mexico Watchdog is in the process of filing an Inspection of Public Records Act request with Deming and Hidalgo County authorities, seeking information about the case.
When news of the Eckert case broke, Deming Police Chief Gigante told KOB-TV, “We follow the law in every aspect, and we follow policies and protocols that we have in place.”
Contact Rob Nikolewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski