ACLU of Florida Files Lawsuit on Behalf of New York Taxi Driver Strip-Searched By Customs Agents at Miami Airport

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
July 2, 2003 12:00 am

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MIAMI-The civil rights of a New York City cab driver were violated when United States customs agents wrongfully detained him at Miami International Airport and subjected him to repeated interrogations and a strip search, according to a lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

“”This is yet another example of government agents abusing their power by intimidating and harassing an innocent citizen without having any evidence of wrongdoing,”” said Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, President of the Greater Miami Chapter of the ACLU of Florida. “”The customs agents used the threat of indefinite detention to illegally imprison and humiliate this man. There’s no excuse for this kind of blatant disregard for his privacy and due process rights.””

Filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the lawsuit, López v. U.S. et al., seeks damages on behalf of Amado López, a U.S. citizen who lives in the Bronx and who was detained for approximately 10 hours on July 25, 2000 after arriving on an early morning flight at Miami International Airport.

According to the ACLU’s complaint, López was returning from a vacation in Caracas, Venezuela and was scheduled to catch a connecting flight from Miami to his home in New York later that morning. Shortly after landing, López claimed his luggage and proceeded to the U.S. Customs checkpoint area, where he was then approached by agents who seized his travel documents and escorted him into a small, enclosed room. For the remainder of the day the agents interrogated López about his travel plans, searched his luggage and then ordered him to remove all of his clothing and submit to a highly intrusive body search.

Though agents found no evidence of illegal contraband, López’s disturbing ordeal continued when agents escorted him to the bathroom and watched him relieve himself. In its lawsuit, the ACLU charges that customs officers subjected López to constant “”degrading ridicule and mockery”” and ignored his repeated requests to speak to an attorney. The 10-page complaint also states that agents then pressured him to sign a form consenting to an x-ray of his stomach and abdominal area.

“”After persistent threat of indefinite detention, our client signed the consent form under extreme duress and coercion,”” said Rosalind Matos, staff counsel with the ACLU of South Florida, who is serving as lead counsel on the case. “”He reasonably believed that if he did not sign, customs officers would detain him indefinitely.””

The ACLU’s complaint also describes how López was handcuffed, shackled and paraded through a crowd of onlookers in the baggage claim area. He was then transported in a van to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where X-rays were taken.

“”It was a horrible, humiliating experience,”” said López. “”They treated me like an ordinary criminal. The entire ordeal was terrifying beyond belief.””

After offering López monetary compensation of $40-which he refused to accept-the customs officers escorted him back to the airport, where he took a flight home. He arrived in New York at 11 p.m.-nearly 14 hours after his ordeal began.

The ACLU’s lawsuit charges that the customs officers violated their client’s rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by illegally detaining and searching him without reasonable suspicion and probable cause.

The lawsuit also charges that the federal government–a named defendant in the lawsuit–is liable for the agents’ actions. The ACLU is seeking unspecified damages for their client to compensate him for the humiliation and maltreatment he suffered.

The complaint in this case is available online at: /node/35396

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