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Police Use Force, Catheter to Obtain Urine Sample From Man in Custody

By Zachary Siegel 07/06/16

Defense attorney Pam Hein says that the practice of forcing catheters into suspects' urethras "has been going on for years," and is often abused.

Police Use Force, Catheter to Obtain Urine Sample From Man in Custody

While Dirk Landon Sparks was held in custody for a domestic disturbance on March 14, police officers at the Pierre Police Department in South Dakota noticed a sudden change in his demeanor. 

He became fidgety, the officers observed. 

A judge then signed off on a search warrant for police to obtain Sparks’ blood or urine. After Sparks refused the test, police transported him to a nearby hospital. What happened next is straight out of the Cuckoo’s Nest. 

Sparks was strapped to a white-sheeted hospital bed where staff forced a catheter into his urethra, to collect a urine sample. No anesthetics were given. 

Sparks tested positive for THC and methamphetamine. He was subsequently charged with obstruction, two counts of felony drug ingestion, and possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

Apparently, forced catheterization on uncooperative suspects is standard operating procedure. It’s also legal, the state's top prosecutor told the Argus Leader. But Sparks’ attorney is asking a judge to discard the evidence obtained from the invasive urine sample because it violated his client's constitutional rights. But rarely are these protests won. 

Pam Hein, a defense attorney, told the Argus Leader that the practice of forcing catheters into suspects' urethras "has been going on for years." Hein believes the intrusive method is often abused, and judges are quick to sign off on warrants based solely on the officers’ suspicions. 

Police not only use forced catheterization to gain otherwise unobtainable evidence. A now infamous case from 2013 involves a “shy junk dealer struggling to get by” in New Mexico, who was forced to have bowel movements after being suspected of swallowing heroin prior to being arrested. 

After being detained for 13 hours during which the suspect underwent two rectal exams, three enemas, two X-rays and a colonoscopy, police found no drugs inside the man. His hospital bill was $6,000. 

These are not isolated cases. Another well-reported instance from 2012, also in New Mexico, involved a man who was strip-searched after being pulled over. Nothing was found on his person but police remained suspicious. The suspect was then taken to a hospital where he was given a forced rectal examination. Once again, no drugs were found and after being released, he was left with an expensive hospital bill. 

These practices, whether it be forced catheterization or bowel movements, are widespread. Such cases make clear that police in the U.S. have too much power over those they are entrusted to protect and serve. 

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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