PIERRE, S.D. – The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota with attorney James Leach of Rapid City filed an important lawsuit today challenging the use of forced catheterization against the South Dakota Department of Social Services, Avera St. Mary’s Hospital, members of the Pierre Police Department, the Sisseton Police Department, and the South Dakota Highway Patrol.
Two lawsuits have been filed; one on behalf of a three-year-old child who was forcibly catheterized as a means to collect evidence of child abuse or neglect, and the other on behalf of five adults who were subject to forcible catheterization as part of criminal investigations. All plaintiffs were subjected by law enforcement and state officials to forcible catheterization in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
As part of an investigation into a suspected case of child abuse and on the order and direction of the South Dakota Department of Social Services, Avera St. Mary’s hospital in Pierre forcibly catheterized a three-year-old boy. The South Dakota Department of Social Services obtained involuntary and coerced consent from the child’s mother, who was being investigated after her boyfriend was arrested for a probation violation, under the threat of the removal of her children. The complaint filed on her behalf and on behalf of her child challenges the practice of catheterizing children who are suspected of being victims of child abuse in violation of their rights under the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The child was emotionally traumatized and suffered a staph infection as a result of the catheterization.
“Forcible catheterization is painful, physically and emotionally damaging, and deeply degrading,” said Heather Smith, Executive Director. “Catheterization isn’t the best way to obtain evidence, but it is absolutely the most humiliating. The authorities ordered the catheterization of our clients to satisfy their own sadistic and authoritarian desires to punish. Subjecting anyone to forcible catheterization, especially a toddler, to collect evidence when there are less intrusive means available, is unconscionable.”
According to the complaint filed today, all adult plaintiffs were forcibly catheterized on the direction of the police after they forced the police to seek warrants for the collection of bodily fluids. None of the search warrants obtained by police specifically authorized forced catheterization as a means of obtaining evidence. The complaint argues that forcible catheterization is a practice that runs afoul of the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
“The Fourth Amendment guarantees people the right to be free from unreasonable government searches,” said Courtney Bowie, ACLU of South Dakota Legal Director. “There is nothing reasonable about forcibly catheterizing a child. The Constitution’s purpose is to protect people from government intrusions exactly like this.”
The ACLU of South Dakota wrote to the Department of Social Services in April to demand they stop catheterizing children and provide an explanation as to the details of the search on the child and why it was permitted. The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court in South Dakota, seeks a declaration of the unconstitutionality of the practice and monetary compensation for the individuals in the amount to be determined by a jury.
The lawsuits are titled Hunter, on behalf of herself v. South Dakota Department of Social Services and Avera St. Mary’s Hospital, et. al and Riis, et. al. v. Pierre Police Department, Sisseton Police Department, and the South Dakota Highway Patrol, et. al. The complaints are available for download below.
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