Oak Ridge doctor defends cavity search in trial of man whom he paralyzed for exam
By Jamie Satterfield
Knoxville News Sentinel
Posted February 2, 2011 at midnight
When it came to the extraordinary move to paralyze an Anderson County man to search his body for drugs, this doctor didn't hesitate.
"That exam was going to occur with or without his consent," Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge Dr. Michael LaPaglia testified Tuesday in U.S. District Court.
Now, Felix Booker's defense attorney is hoping a jury hearing about the most controversial warrantless body cavity search in local law enforcement history will do what a federal judge would not - toss out a charge the 21-year-old Booker intended to sell the 5.7 grams of crack hidden in his rectum.
Booker was a passenger in a car stopped by Oak Ridge Police Officer Daniel Steakley last February. Steakley found a scant amount of marijuana in the car. He testified Tuesday that he let the driver, a relative of Booker's, go because he was "cooperative." But he arrested Booker, who objected to the search and had $1,731 in cash in his pocket.
After his arrest, officers contended he was unusually fidgety and temporarily "barricaded" himself in an interview room. Booker struggled with jailers after a strip search at the Anderson County Jail and, according to Jailer Jerry Shelton, was strapped naked into a "safety chair" before being hauled, still naked but wrapped in a blanket, to the Methodist Medical Center emergency room.
Once there, the shackled and handcuffed Booker was given a dose of a muscle relaxant after LaPaglia insisted Booker "clenched" his buttocks to thwart a cavity search.
"He still had enough voluntary consciousness to clench his muscles," LaPaglia testified. "I decided to paralyze the patient and retrieve the object."
Booker was injected with drugs to render him unconscious and paralyzed. A breathing tube was placed down his throat because he could no longer breathe on his own. LaPaglia recovered the cocaine, and Booker was sent back to jail.
Neither the officers nor the doctor dispute that Booker was showing no signs of medical distress that would have justified an emergency body cavity search without a search warrant or court order. Defense attorney Bob Jolley has tried and failed to convince Senior U.S. Judge Leon Jordan that the search was a "shocking" violation of the U.S. Constitution's guarantee against unreasonable searches.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Hui on Tuesday sent LaPaglia to the witness stand to shore up her contention that the search was medically necessary.
"If I did not do the rectal exam and he overdosed on some medication, it would have been my fault," LaPaglia testified.
Jolley, however, questioned LaPaglia's judgment, noting that the doctor had been accused of smoking pot and engaging in inappropriate conduct with a 16-year-old psychiatric patient. The trial continues today.http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/feb/02/doctor-defends-cavity-search/