TUCSON (CN) — Border Patrol agents subjected a teenage U.S. citizen to seven hours of abusive and degrading searches and strip searches for no reason as she tried to walk home from breakfast in Nogales — then they lied about it, her attorney says.
As in many twin cities on the border, walking from Nogales, Ariz., to Nogales, Sonora, for a meal is as common as walking to a McDonald’s in a city away from the border. Ashley C., a natural-born U.S. citizen, did so frequently, with her birth certificate and state of Arizona identification card.
But on Oct. 14, 2014, she says, a Border Patrol agent accused her of carrying drugs, without cause. He directed her to a detention room, handcuffed her to a chair, had her sniffed by dogs, and strip-searched by women agents.
The “extremely petite” 18-year-old was never informed of her legal rights, nor was she allowed to call her mother. Nor did the agents or the dogs find any drugs. But that didn’t stop them from taking her to a hospital, in handcuffs, to be X-rayed and strip-searched more thoroughly, she says in a June 8 federal complaint.
The complaint says Border Patrol Agent Shameka Leggett, one of the named defendants, signed a U.S. Public Health Services Division of Immigration Health Services’ Treatment Authorization Request.
“Ashley was ‘diagnosed’ as an alleged ‘potential internal carrier of foreign substance’ and the ‘course of treatment’ was identified as ‘request for X-Ray,'” the complaint states. “It is unclear what possible basis existed for CBP to use an Immigration Health Services’ form or procedure on a citizen of the United States.”
Ashley’s attorney Brian Marchetti said in an interview that the hospital’s records falsely indicate that Ashley was accompanied by her mother.
“They should have said in handcuffs accompanied by uniformed law enforcement officials,” Marchetti said. “There’s no indication [in hospital records] that an X-ray was performed,” Marchetti added.
In addition to agent Leggett and the United States, the complaint names as defendants Holy Cross Hospital and Patrick Martinez, the doctor who “forcefully and digitally probed Ashley’s vagina and anus.”
“Ashley had never before been to a gynecologist and, for the remainder of her life, will always remember that her first pelvic and rectal exams were under the most inhumane circumstances imaginable to a U.S. citizen at a hospital on U.S. soil,” the complaint states.
After “enduring roughly seven hours of dehumanizing, invasive and degrading searches,” Ashley found herself back at the Port of Entry.
“Ashley was shocked and humiliated by these exceedingly intrusive searches,” the complaint states. “That an audience of CBP agents and Holy Cross staff observed her being probed compounded her feeling of degradation.”
The complaint says authorities never found any drugs on or in Ashley, and that she never consented to “the unreasonable searches of [her] body cavities.”
“At no point during the searches of Ashley did the CBP agents obtain a warrant authorizing a search of her body,” the complaint says.
Ashley worries that others have faced similar abuse, since Holy Cross and Customs and Border Protection have a “pattern and practice of jointly conducting law enforcement searches in an unreasonable manner and without a warrant or sufficient suspicion.”
“We hope to prevent this from happening to anybody else,” Marchetti said.
The complaint also notes that Holy Cross has not trained its employees “on the constitutional limits constraining those searches.”
Ashley seeks punitive damages for civil rights violations, including false arrest, false imprisonment, and assault and battery.
A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
In December 2013, a 54-year-old woman sued the University Medical Center of El Paso and several Border Patrol agents, after being subjected to body cavity searches for six hours at the border after a drug-sniffing dog jumped on her.
The hospital paid the woman $1.1 million in a July 2014 settlement, and agreed to review its policies.
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