6/10/2020New Mexico: Motorist Sues After Police Conduct Prostate Exam For Failure To Signal
New Mexico Court of Appeals reinstates lawsuit against doctor who followed police orders to invasively search innocent motorist over turn signal.
An innocent motorist may pursue his lawsuit against hospital personnel who, at the direction of police, conducted a "digital rectal examination" after he was pulled over for allegedly failing to signal a turn. The New Mexico Court of Appeals last week gave a partial green light to Timothy Young to go after the Gila Regional Medical Center (GRMC) doctor who conducted an invasive bodily search on behalf of the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Department.
Deputy Javier Peru stopped Young in Lordsburg on October 13, 2012, claiming the man's blue Dodge pickup truck failed to signal a turn. During the stop, the deputy asked for consent to search the truck. Young agreed, as he had nothing to hide. After a team of deputies searched for two-and-a-half hours, they came up empty.
"This is the part that, I'm like, ahh, I feel there's something in here -- but where?" Deputy Peru said, as recorded on his body camera.
The officers decided to bring in a drug dog to sniff the truck. Deputy David Arredondo asked Young whether the dog would alert on his truck.
"I don't know what the dog is going to do," Young replied. "If you want it to I guess it could."
The dog did alert, so the officers strip searched Young, and again came up empty. So the officers obtained a warrant to search the truck, though they incorrectly claimed the warrant also authorized a body cavity search. They went to the hospital and told the on-duty emergency physician, Doctor Bryant Beesley, that they believed Young had swallowed drugs and they had a warrant to conduct an invasive exam to find them.
Beesley "skimmed through" the warrant and did not check the details, believing the officers were telling the truth. Young pleaded with the doctor, saying he was not carrying any drugs, but the doctor proceeded. The search found nothing, and a subsequent x-ray also found nothing. After seven hours, Young was released and later the hospital billed him $814 for the exam.
Young has already received $925,000 in compensation from Hidalgo County, but he wants $707,000 from the doctor, who had been shielded from the lawsuit by a lower court judge.
Young's lawyer pointed out the doctor cannot claim immunity for his conduct on behalf of law enforcement because there was no warrant for the invasive bodily search he conducted. The three-judge appellate panel agreed.
"An attending physician is required to learn the constitutional requirements of invasive body searches," Judge Briana H. Zamora wrote for the appellate court. "For this reason, a reasonable physician should have known that a manual rectal cavity search and abdominal x-ray were unconstitutional unless authorized by a valid, particularized warrant."
The appellate judges concluded that the case should be sent back to trial to sort through the conflicting testimony about what the officers told the doctor about the warrant. If it can be shown that the officers directly and specifically told him the invasive exam was authorized, then Beesley could escape liability under the ruling.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 500k PDF file at the source link below.