Federal judge awards thousands to those forcibly catheterized for urine samples

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 1:54 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - A federal judge approved a settlement in a legal challenge against the practice of some South Dakota law enforcement agencies of using forced catheterizations to obtain urine samples.

U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange awarded plaintiffs in the case a total of $440,000 in damages, legal costs, and attorney’s fees, according to a press release sent Wednesday by the ACLU of South Dakota.

The ACLU and attorney Jim Leach of Rapid City filed the case on behalf of several individuals against the city of Wagner and the Wagner Police Department, the city of Pierre and the Pierre Police Department, the town of Sisseton and the Sisseton Police Department, and the South Dakota Highway Patrol along with individually named law enforcement officers.

The plaintiffs said they were held down and subjected to involuntary catheterization after police obtained search warrants for urine samples to detect the presence of drugs, which the ACLU argued is a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches. None of the search warrants obtained by police specifically authorized forced catheterization as a means of getting evidence.

Lange made his ruling in April, writing, “The plaintiffs were not smuggling drugs or weapons in their urethras and bladders, and the catheterizations would only provide evidence of drug ingestion rather than the more serious crime of drug trafficking… Ingesting drugs is one of the least serious drug crimes a person can commit.”

Lange wrote in a 106-page opinion that the practice to prove low-level drug crimes was “a highly invasive — and in these cases — degrading medical procedure.”

Five people were awarded settlements between $75,000 and $99,000 for damages and legal costs.

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