Rectal Cocaine Removal May Leave Police Liable
(CN) - Two California police officers may be liable for allegedly having a doctor remove a baggie full of cocaine base from a man's rectum without consent, the 9th Circuit ruled.
Police in Pomona, Calif., arrested Clifford George on a parole violation in 2004. Officers Greg Freeman and Daryll Johnson said George faked a seizure while being strip-searched, after which they discovered he had hidden a baggie of what appeared to be cocaine base in his rectum.
The officers took George to the hospital where they allegedly told a doctor that George had "possibly" had a seizure and swallowed cocaine in addition to hiding it in his rectum.
After George's vitals came out consistent with cocaine toxicity, the doctor inserted a metal anoscope into his rectum and removed the baggie with long forceps. He then intubated George, inserted a tube through his nose and stomach and filled him with a gallon of liquid laxative.
George pleaded no contest to possession of cocaine base for sale and received an eight-year prison sentence.
He is now suing Freeman, Johnson, Dr. Thomas Edholm and two nurses, alleging that the forcible, invasive and nonconsensual procedures violated the Fourth and 14th Amendments.
U.S. District Judge George Wu found that the officers had qualified immunity and granted them summary judgment. Wu also dismissed George's claims against Edholm and the nurses after he failed to properly serve them. In its first brush with the case, the 9th Circuit affirmed summary judgment on a claim related George's initial detention, but instructed the District Court to let George perfect service on Edholm.
George's Fourth Amendment claims against the officers found new life from the federal appeals court Wednesday.
"A reasonable jury could conclude that Officers Freeman and Johnson gave false information about George's medical condition to the hospital staff and to Dr. Edholm, with the intent of inducing Edholm to perform an invasive search," Judge William Fletcher wrote for the three-judge panel.
While there is evidence that Freeman and Johnson both knew that George had faked the seizure and had not ingested cocaine, "the hospital triage record indicates that hospital staff had been told by police that, in addition to inserting cocaine into his rectum, George had also ingested cocaine and had possibly had a seizure," Fletcher wrote.
"George specifically stated that he heard Freeman tell Edholm that George had swallowed cocaine," Fletcher added. "There is evidence in the record that the information that George had ingested cocaine and had possibly had a seizure led Edholm to perform a more invasive search than he otherwise would have. Edholm testified that his decision to treat George aggressively was based in part on that information."
The panel remanded the case to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.