by Matt Clarke
In July 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota (ACLU) filed a lawsuit alleging law enforcement authorities in South Dakota forced catheters into four men, one woman, and a toddler to acquire urine samples for drug tests. Two of the men were willing to voluntarily provide urine samples, but police indulged their "sadistic desires" by forcible catheterizing them anyway, according to the lawsuit.
The 3-year-old boy was catheterized in February 2017 after his mother's probationer boyfriend failed a drug test. The boy screamed as he was held down and complained of pain for days thereafter. No drugs were found in his urine, but he allegedly developed a staph infection caused by the catheterization.
Forcibly catheterizing can be dangerous according to Dr. Maurice Garcia, a University of California at San Francisco urologist and catheter expert.
"It's sort of like someone forcing food into your mouth," said Dr. Garcia. "You resist by tightening your lips. The muscles down in the pelvic floor, if they tighten, can make it close to impossible to get a catheter in there. And, if it's forced in, it can tear the walls of the urethra close to where the muscle is."
According to Dr. Garcia, tearing the muscles can cause the urethra to from rings of scar tissue called strictures which can make it difficult to urinate or pass future catheters. Such an injury would also cause weeks of painful urination. The injury is permanent.
"A stricture is scar tissue. Once you have a stricture it doesn't disappear," said Dr. Garcia, who noted that children are especially difficult catheter subjects and should be first soothed into relaxation.
"I think it would be foolish for someone without a lot of experience to be putting in catheters against someone's will," Dr. Garcia opined. "If the police need a sample, they can just wait until the suspect produces some urine. Every measure should be taken before undergoing this procedure, plain and simple."
Jason Rils and Cody Holcombe were both forcibly cathtereized by police in Pierre during separate incidents. Both offered to voluntarily urinate after police obtained a warrant, but were told it was too late.
"One cop held my penis, and a doctor shoved a catheter in me," said Rils. "It hurt for a week. I couldn't pee."
Holcombe "agreed to give a urine sample and drank two cups of water provided to him" but was still unable to urinate. Pierre police told him he was taking too long and forcibly catheterized him.
Pierre police also catheterized Derek Sparks, who said he experienced painful urination for weeks following the forcible catheterization and still has nightmares about the experience. He described being hooded with a mesh bag before the catheter was forced into him while a police officer video recorded the event.
Aaron Henning was forcibly catheterized by police in Sisseton. Gena Alvarez received similar treatment at the hands of the South Dakota Highway Patrol.
The adults in the lawsuit are not suing medical personnel, but the boy's lawsuit names Avera St. Mary's Hospital in Pierre and six of its employees as defendants. In some cases, police had warrants to obtain urine samples, but the warrants were silent about forcible catheterization and it is unclear why the warrants sought urine samples instead of blood samples.
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