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Lawsuit Alleges 'Invasive' Body Cavity Search By Arizona Hospital, CBP

A U.S. citizen is suing U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales, Arizona, after she says she was detained for seven hours, strip searched, then forced to submit to an anal and vaginal probe.

The woman said she had just crossed through the Nogales port of entry in October 2014 when a CBP agent accused her of possessing illegal drugs. According to the lawsuit, the agent handcuffed her to a chair, checked her with multiple drug-sniffing dogs, and then had her searched by a female investigator. When that failed to turn up any drugs, the lawsuit states, the woman, Ashley Cervantes, was handcuffed and driven to Holy Cross Hospital where she was forced to undergo two different probes. 

"She received the most egregious and invasive searches that a person possibly could at the hands of a male physician and in the presence of the uniformed Customs and Border Protection personnel," said her attorney, Brian Marchetti.

According to paperwork he received, the agent, Shameka Leggett, filed an Immigration Health Services form and on the line for describing diagnosis and symptoms, wrote, "possible internal carrier of foreign substances." Then the agent wrote under Course of Treatment, "Request for X-ray."

Marchetti said instead of an X-ray, the woman was internally probed.

The lawsuit alleges that even after the body cavity searches, no drugs were found. 

"A few hours later, she was discharged, brought in the government vehicle back to the port of entry where she was lectured and released," Marchetti said.

In a letter to Marchetti, Holy Cross Hospital Risk Manager Ann Ross wrote, "As we previously advised you, the involved Emergency Room physician is not an employee of Holy Cross Hospital."

She then added the woman was in CBP custody at the time and "we provided care according to our processes for patients in custody.

"Based on the above, we respectfully decline your offer to mediate or further discuss at this time."

Marchetti then showed the Fronteras Desk a bill addressed to the woman's father for $574.75 for the emergency room visit.

The civil suit alleging unreasonable searches and deprivation of due process rights was filed last week in federal court in Tucson. The United States, CBP, various CBP agents, Patrick Martinez, the physician who allegedly probed the woman, and Holy Cross Hospital, were sued. CBP would not comment on pending litigation, and Holy Cross Hospital did not respond to requests for an interview.

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.