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Update: Woman involved in CBP cavity search case receives $1.1 million settlement

By: Jesse Martinez
EL PASO, Texas - The University Medical Center of El Paso and emergency room physicians paid a New Mexico Woman over a controversial cavity search incident.

As KFOX14 previously reported, the woman claimed to have been illegally cavity-searched at a hospital while in the custody of Customs and Border Protection officers.

The settlement awarded the 54-year-old woman $1.1 million for the cavity searches, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and Texas.

According to the settlement, $500,000 will be paid by Texas Tech University on behalf of the Texas Tech Defendants, $475,000 will be paid on behalf of the Hospital District Defendants by its insurance carrier and $125,000 will be paid by the El Paso County Hospital District.

"We are very pleased that the hospital has taken steps to alleviate the great wrong done to our client," said ACLU of New Mexico cooperating attorney Laura Schauer Ives. "We hope this settlement will stand as a powerful reminder to other doctors and medical facilities that they have the right and responsibility to refuse to carry out unjustified, unnecessary, demeaning searches on behalf of law enforcement."

The following statement was released by James N. Valenti, president and CEO of UMC:

"The expectation we have of everyone who works at University Medical Center is that every patient will be treated with respect and dignity. In fact, that expectation is among our organization's core values. UMCs settlement of this case was not intended to 'make it go away.' It was meant to bring closure for the plaintiff and to the issues that she alleged and to ensure our stakeholders that we have taken steps to tighten our policies and reinforce them with staff. We also intend to make sure that area law enforcement agencies understand that UMC's only concern when patients are brought to us in their custody is patient care. We do not see those patients as prisoners. We are here solely to tend to their needs and to do our best to ensure that they have a good outcome.

The ACLU was suing the hospital district and several CBP officers on behalf of a New Mexico woman after she said she was made to feel like an animal.

The lawsuit alleged the woman was crossing the Bridge of the Americas in December 2012 when CBP officers suspected she had drugs on her.

She was later taken to University Medical Center where she claims doctors and the officers anally and vaginally probed her for hours.

No drugs were found and she was left with a $5,000 hospital bill.

Officials said the hospital agreed to review revisions it recently made to its internal policies governing law enforcement searches with ACLU lawyers.

"Despite the trauma and humiliation endured by our client, she had the courage to step forward," said Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas. "Because of her, the hospital has changed its policy to prevent this from happening to others. Now we hope that CBP will also take responsibility and stop subjecting innocent people to unconstitutional and abusive searches."

KFOX14 previously reported that UMC officials said they took care of the woman's $5,000 bill and are updating their system so that from now on, anyone in the custody of law enforcement who comes in for a cavity search will never have to foot that bill.

According to court documents, on May 1, the court was notified that the woman settled with the hospital. However, it was not settled with several CBP officers.

The document states two unknown CBP supervisor agents, and two other agents identified as Portillo and Herrera, were not part of the settlement.

The woman's claims against the officers remains pending in federal court, officials said.

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