Friday, September 30, 2016

ADA Who Signed Off On Search Warrant Not Responsible for Subsequent Highly Unreasonable Forced Medical Intrusions

Eckert v. Doughterty, No. 15-2204 (10th Cir. 9/14/16) (unpublished): This is the infamous case of Mr. Eckert, who was stopped by for failing to obey a stop sign in Deming, NM, and who ended up being subjected to numerous humiliating and painful medical procedures, including a colonoscopy, because his "posture [was] erect and he kept his legs together," leading Officer Chavez to suspect Mr. Eckert had drugs concealed in his rectum. This particular appeal involved District Attorney Dougherty, who was granted qualified immunity by the district court. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the grant of qualified immunity and the dismissal of Mr. Eckert's lawsuit against Mr. Dougherty. ADA Dougherty had approved Officer Chavez's application for a search warrant, in which the officer had included the information that a narcotics dog alerted to the driver's seat and that two other officers said Mr. Eckert was known to conceal drugs in his anal cavity. This information was false. No narcotics were ever found. The claim against Mr. Dougherty was primarily based on his approval of the search warrant. The Tenth Circuit agreed that the affidavit established probable cause. Officer Chavez could reasonably rely on the statements of other law enforcement officers. The magistrate (and Mr. Dougherty) could reasonably rely on the officer's evaluation of Mr. Eckert's posture. Additionally, there was the dog alert. Given all this, an objectively reasonable official could find probable cause. For all these reasons, Mr. Dougherty was properly granted qualified immunity and the case against him dismissed. However, the panel stated in the beginning that "[n]othing in this decision ... should be read to condone any of the procedures, given the significant privacy interests in avoiding forced medical intrusions."