Dr. LaPaglia’s Excuse: It was Gonna Happen Anyway

There are places in the human body where things can be secreted.  Anyone who’s read Papillon knows, as does anyone familiar with some of the tricks of the drug mule.  Yet, the physical integrity of a person isn’t, by definition, the playground of the police should they decide, for whatever reason, that they wish to determine whether there’s anything lurking in a fellow’s anus.

Enter the professional

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.

No muss.  No fuss.  No warrant.  Doctor’s orders.

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.”

One has to wonder what might make an arrested defendant “unusually fidgety” so as to surmise that he’s concealed narcotics within his body.  Perhaps it’s a lot like a second grader squirming because he has to pee.  Maybe it’s different, the sort of motion that alerts a professional, like a doctor, to believe there’s something to be found on the other side.  Either way, Michael LaPaglia, the physician, was determined to find out.

LaPaglia, of his own volition, decided to inject Felix Booker with a drug to paralyze him.  Not because of medical necessity.  Not for any benefit to his patient.  Not because he was under constraint of a court order to do so.  LaPaglia made his own decision, took the initiative.  Carpe Anus.  And he dove into his work, a place where he would appear right at home.

Booker is on trial in federal court, it should be noted, for possession of the 5.7 grams of crack unearthed by the curious Dr. LaPaglia after his arrest for being a passenger in a car, inexplicably stopped and searched.

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.

Without any further details, it’s impossible to discern from this description the justification for the stop or search of the car that revealed a “scant amount of marijuana.”  But then, there’s always the price to be paid for being “uncooperative” by objecting to a search.  After all, what better reason to end up with someone thrusting past the sphincter than asserting a constitutional right?

Yet, Booker’s suppression motion was denied, as the judge, Leon Jordan, failed to find this conduct sufficient shocking, which is a curious commentary on Judge Jordan’s experiences.  Booker’s lawyer, Bob Jolley, decided to take the issue to the jury by questioning LaPaglia about his motivations to go delving into Booker’s backside on his own. 

“If I did not do the rectal exam and he overdosed on some medication, it would have been my fault,” LaPaglia testified.

And how much worse would Dr. LaPaglia have felt if it was a 16 year old psychiatric patient who suffered for his neglect?

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 answer, thus, may never be known. The power of rationalization is an amazing thing, as LaPaglia argues that his initiative in ferreting out the drugs was really done for the benefit of Booker, lest he suffer the indignity of ongoing unusual fidgeting and risk anal overdose. 

However, the medical ethics of physicians who not only cooperate with the police for the purpose of law enforcement, the search for evidence with which to convict their “patient,” doesn’t seem to give LaPaglia pause.  Here, he not only was compliant in the search, but based upon the story, took the lead, made the decision to inject a drug to paralyze Booker and took the dive on his own.  His post hoc rationale that there was a medical benefit to Booker is laughable.  Where was the informed consent?

There are serious medical ethics questions raised by physicians willingly serving the police even where a warrant has been ordered; after all, the fact that a judge has approved a search doesn’t implicate a physician’s duty to use his professional abilities to make it happen.  Do no harm?  Unless the police want you to.  Unless you happen to agree with the cops and think it’s fun to paralyze people and enter their anus in search of contraband. 

The doctor is under no compulsion to become the pawn of the court any more than he is subject to the command of the police.  He makes the choice to limit his involvement to the treatment of patients rather than the facilitator of law enforcement.  Whether there’s a warrant authorizing him to do so or not.

But then, why should Dr. Michael LaPaglia hesitate from paralyzing a person and entering his body.  After all, it was going to happen anyway.

H/T Radley Balko

2 thoughts on “Dr. LaPaglia’s Excuse: It was Gonna Happen Anyway

  1. Justin T.

    Makes me wonder if the defendant would have a cause of action against the doctor for assault or at the very least an ethics complaint, since as you said, the doctor is under no legal obligation to administer such a procedure merely because a warrant has been issued.

  2. Pingback: 6th Circuit to Dr. Michael LaPaglia: No More Rectal Love For You | Simple Justice

Comments are closed.