Forced Catheterization

We are surrounded by so many serious issues that sometimes the problems not affecting many people can slip through the radar. Despite the amount of reading I do to write these pieces, I was not aware that forced catheterization was among them. In several states including Indiana, Utah, Idaho, Washington and South Dakota, forced catheterization is and has been used. A good illustration of how it happens is the case of Jamie Lockard in a small town in Indiana. He was stopped by the police for going through a stop sign. Suspecting he was intoxicated they gave him a breathalyzer test. He blew .07 which is right under the limit. They then got a search warrant for both a blood test and an urine test and took him to an emergency room. Later, in a deposition Lockard related what happened there. He said he couldn’t urinate, (although the hospital said he wouldn’t) so the officers handcuffed him to a bed, one took one ankle, another took another, while a nurse inserted a 16 inch catheter into his penis. In his deposition he describes it as “just as if somebody would take a burning hot coal and stick it up your penis.” To be noted is that his blood alcohol test showed .05. Lockard sued on the grounds his civil rights had been violated. He also believed that if it had happened once, it could happen again to him or to anyone else. The judge in Indiana threw out the case ruling that the police officers were entitled to qualified immunity, meaning they can be protected for bad guesses and grey areas. The US Supreme court has ruled on extracting blood and bullets in order to gather evidence, but the area of forcibly extracting urine remains unresolved. However, in another similar case in Indiana a few years before, a judge ruled against the officer. As a result the practice in that county was stopped. This divergence highlights another facet of this problem. There is no consensus as to how it should be handled and more often than not it seems court cases go for the officers and against the person who underwent forced catheterization. True, the number of people involved in what one defense lawyer called a barbaric practice is relatively small, but that’s not the point. Barry Friedman, a New York University law professor who has written on this subject summarizes the issue—as well as why I chose to write about it—when he said in an interview with The Marshall Project that what should shock us is that it happens at all.