On November 13, 2013, I began a three part series on one of the most bizarre cases I’ve ever seen: the police-ordered serial, medical, anal rape of David Eckert, 63, by the Deming, NM Police Department. On January 2, 2013, an officer stopped Eckert for a minor traffic violation and through mysterious means became obsessively convinced that Eckert was hiding drugs in his anus. Over the next 12 hours, Eckert was subjected to multiple digital anal probes, multiple enemas, and finally, a colonoscopy. No drugs were ever found and he was eventually returned to his home holding his copy of a traffic ticket and nursing much-traveled hindquarters.
Those articles can be found here:
After examining as much evidence as I could find in the public sphere, including the officer and medical reports, I was sufficiently confident to write, in the third article:
After locating PDFs of the police and medical reports, I am confident in asserting that this case will never be argued before a jury. No attorney in his right mind would want the defendants to testify and they would be horrified at the possibility of cross-examination. Depositions are going to be bad enough.
For those unfamiliar with the case, or those wishing a reminder, it would be useful to takes the links and review the first three articles, which reveal that the officers involved were either lying, incompetent, malicious, or some combination of the three. There was not only no probable cause to obtain the warrant used to repeatedly violate Eckert, the warrant was not valid in the county where the procedures took place and expired long before the colonoscopy, a procedure with inherent risks, and which requires anesthesia, never something to be taken lightly with patients at the age of 63.
I began the third article with this observation:
The David Eckert case is likely not one that will justify a dedicated archive. In fact, I suspect this will be the last update until an inevitable settlement is reached.
And that settlement, at least in part, has come to pass with extraordinary speed. Jacob Sullum, writing for Forbes, reports:
The Associated Press reports that the city of Deming, New Mexico, where David Eckert was pulled over for a rolling stop last January, and nearby Hidalgo County have agreed to settle a civil rights lawsuit he filed after cops from those two jurisdictions forced him to undergo a humiliating exploration of his digestive tract. The city and county will pay Eckert $1.6 million, which amounts to $200,000 for each of the increasingly intrusive searches performed on Eckert at Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City: two X-rays, two digital probes of his anus, three enemas, and a colonoscopy, none of which discovered the slightest trace of the drugs that police claim to have thought he was hiding inside himself. Eckert also sued various Deming and Hidalgo County police officers; the hospital, which billed him more than $6,000 for these indignities; and two physicians, Robert Wilcox and Okay Odocha, who executed the elaborate assault under the cover of medicine.
Eckert’s attorney is a master of understatement:
It was medically unethical and unconstitutional,’ Shannon Kennedy, Eckert’s attorney, told A.P. ‘He feels relieved that this part is over and believes this litigation might make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.’ Eckert added:
‘I feel that I got some justice as I think the settlement shows they were wrong to do what they did to me. I truly hope that no one will be treated like this ever again. I felt very helpless and alone on that night.
It is not unusual for criminals to file lawsuits against the police for matters trivial and substantial. Usually, attorneys don’t file these suits for mere nuisance value, but because they feel the police have violated, if not the law, at least one of their own policies. In addition, they know that local governments and/or their insurance carriers will often settle such suits for a relatively small amount to avoid the costs of protracted litigation. Some attorneys doubtless see such suits as a way to make relatively easy money while performing the public service of keeping the police honest–whether they need it or not.
In this case, the $1.6 million dollar settlement speaks to an entirely different understanding and legal dynamic. Eckert was raped on January 2 and January 3, 2013, but the lawsuit wasn’t filed until October 24, 2013. It took less than four months to settle the suit–warp speed in civil litigation–and for an amount so large it indicates nothing less than that the City and County knew they were getting off cheaply. They really didn’t want to take this case to court, and if they did, knew they would likely end up paying many times more than $1.6 million dollars. They could appeal, but that would take years and far more money, and they’d probably end up paying at least $1.6 million anyway.
Eckert’s lawsuit against the hospital and doctors involved has yet to be settled, but I suspect that too will be done in short order, and that settlement will be substantial as well.
One can argue that Eckert is a petty, life-long criminal and hardly a sympathetic person, but the issue is much larger, and more important, than Eckert. Anyone can see themselves in Eckert’s position (no pun intended), and few will view the police in this case sympathetically.
It has been my experience that many police agencies, particularly contemporary agencies, will not cease unconstitutional, even outrageous behaviors unless forced to do so in as public and painful a manner as possible. Hopefully this case will provide substantial precedence and warning for officers across the nation. While the amounts that will eventually be paid to Eckert are small by the standards of some lawsuits, they will surely not be something the defendants can easily laugh off or portray as just the cost of doing business.
Whether the officers and doctors involved will still have their jobs, or whether they should have them, when the dust settles is another matter.
I’ll continue to report on this case when the final settlement is done.