Last year we learned of three incidents in New Mexico in which motorists pulled over for moving violations were subjected to forced anal cavity searches, x-rays and even colonoscopies because police suspected they were hiding drugs in their bodies. I pointed out in January that the practice has also been used in Texas, Illinois, Florida and Kansas.
It looks like Oak Ridge, Tenn., has been doing it, too.
An Oak Ridge man who says he was forced in June 2011 to submit to a digital rectal exam for suspected drugs — and no drugs were found — has filed a lawsuit in Anderson County Circuit Court.
Wesley Antwan Gulley’s legal action contends his constitutional rights were violated and he was subjected to false arrest and imprisonment, assault and battery and medical battery.
The lawsuit alleges Gulley was in shackles and reluctantly consented to the exam, but only after Dr. Michael A. LaPaglia ordered an injectable sedative and threatened to use it “in performing the digital rectal exam …”
The defendants used coercion and “undue influence” to force Gulley’s consent, and police officers didn’t have a warrant, it continues.
Gulley was stopped in Oak Ridge for an alleged traffic violation on June 3, 2011, and told he was being arrested for drugs, according to the lawsuit. He was 19 at the time, records show.
A drug-sniffing dog alerted on a $20 bill found on the driver’s seat of the vehicle, and Gulley underwent an extensive pat-down search.
He was then taken to Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge for the exam, the lawsuit states.
Three Oak Ridge police officers and two nurses were in the hospital room at Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge at the time of the exam, according to the complaint.
Nothing was found and Gulley was never charged with any drug-related crime, the lawsuit states. A resisting arrest charge filed against Gulley was later dismissed by the state, the lawsuit states.
This is actually the second time a forcible anal probe has been challenged in a Tennessee courtroom. In 2011, the same doctor and the same police department performed a similar procedure on a man, also after a traffic stop.
Felix Booker’s defense attorney is hoping a jury hearing about the most controversial warrantless body cavity search in local law enforcement history will do what a federal judge would not — toss out a charge the 21-year-old Booker intended to sell the 5.7 grams of crack hidden in his rectum.
Booker was a passenger in a car stopped by Oak Ridge Police Officer Daniel Steakley last February. Steakley found a scant amount of marijuana in the car. He testified Tuesday that he let the driver, a relative of Booker’s, go because he was “cooperative.” But he arrested Booker, who objected to the search and had $1,731 in cash in his pocket.
After his arrest, officers contended he was unusually fidgety and temporarily “barricaded” himself in an interview room. Booker struggled with jailers after a strip search at the Anderson County Jail and, according to Jailer Jerry Shelton, was strapped naked into a “safety chair” before being hauled, still naked but wrapped in a blanket, to the Methodist Medical Center emergency room.
Once there, the shackled and handcuffed Booker was given a dose of a muscle relaxant after LaPaglia insisted Booker “clenched” his buttocks to thwart a cavity search.
“He still had enough voluntary consciousness to clench his muscles,” LaPaglia testified. “I decided to paralyze the patient and retrieve the object.”
Booker was injected with drugs to render him unconscious and paralyzed. A breathing tube was placed down his throat because he could no longer breathe on his own.
So because a passenger in a car refused a search and was carrying a large amount of cash, the authorities drugged him, attempted to probe him anally, drugged him again until he was unconscious, then probed his anus. That search was upheld, probably because the police actually did find cocaine in Booker’s body. A federal jury then convicted him. That conviction was later overturned by the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which found that such a procedure “shocks the conscience.”
Well, yes. Yes it does. Unfortunately, in the time it took a federal appeals court to figure that out, Oak Ridge police probed Gulley, not to mention any other motorists who have yet to come forward. The good news is that a federal judge ruled last month that neither LaPaglia nor the officers involved in Booker’s case are protected by qualified immunity, so Booker’s lawsuit can go forward. The bad news is that if Booker and Gulley win, the officers’ share of the damages (and possibly LaPaglia’s) will be paid by Tennessee taxpayers.
The two cases also illustrate why it’s important to be intolerant of constitutional violations even when they reveal evidence of guilt. Even if you support the drug war, and believe that anally penetrating drug smugglers is an appropriate tactic in waging it*, until the act is completed, there’s the matter of distinguishing the actual drug smugglers from innocent people who happen to fit how your average cop thinks smugglers might look, talk or behave. Or because a drug dog was “alerted” to a $20 bill.
(*Just as an aside here, what is wrong with you?)