When a Tennessee doctor paralyzed a drug suspect brought to him by police, then pulled a large rock of crack cocaine from the suspect’s anus, he violated the suspect’s constitutional rights even though he might have saved the man’s life. That is what a federal appeals court held in a ruling handed down Monday.
Felix Booker was pulled over by Oak Ridge, Tenn., police for expired tags. But using a drug sniffing dog, the deputies smelled marijuana. They also noticed that Booker was fidgeting and trying to stick his hands down the back of his pants during the stop.
One of the officers, Daniel Steakley, had arrested Booker before when he found a large amount of marijuana hidden in Booker’s crotch. Suspecting similar behavior, Steakley and another officer, Lewis Ridenour, arrested Booker and took him to a police station where Booker became resistant, barricading himself against an interview room door when the officers tried to enter.
Eventually, they took him to a county detention center where they strip searched Booker, finding nothing in his pants but noticing, “a small string protruding from Booker’s anus.”
Booker (pictured) kept resisting, so they took him to an emergency room doctor, Michael LaPaglia, at Oak Ridge Methodist Medical Center. Police had brought suspects to LaPaglia three times before for the purpose of performing rectal probes. LaPaglia attempted to penetrate Booker's rectum with a finger, but Booker tightened up and would not allow it.
“If an individual does not want you to enter their rectum, you are not going to,” LaPaglia later explained. But the doctor believed, based on Steakley’s suspicion, that Booker’s life was threatened if there were dangerous drugs concealed in rectum being "a part of the body that absorbs drugs very readily."
So LaPaglia took the apparently unprecedented step of administering drugs to medically paralyze Booker for seven or eight minutes. During that time, LaPaglia pulled the five-gram crack rock out of Booker's anus.
LaPaglia’s violation of Booker's person “shocked the conscience,” the court said, even though the physician believed he was acting to protect Booker’s life.
The close involvement of the police made LaPaglia in effect a police agent, the court said, ruling that the doctor violated Booker’s rights against unreasonable searches and seizures, as spelled out in the Fourth Amendment
The court ruled the cocaine that came from Booker’s anus to be inadmissable in court and voided his conviction on drug charges.
SOURCES: United States Court of Appeals, Associated Press