SD law enforcement to pay out $440K in forced catheterization settlements

Police lights.
Police lights.

A settlement has been approved in the federal case over unconstitutional forced catheterizations, with South Dakota law enforcement defendants required to pay a collective $440,000 in damages, legal costs and attorney’s fees.

The case, which was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota and Rapid City attorney Jim Leach, was decided in April, with U.S. District Court Chief Judge Roberto Lange writing the opinion on whether the individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights were violated. The settlement was filed in August.

The case involved plaintiffs testifying that they were held down and subjected to involuntary catheterization after police obtained search warrants to collect urine samples to detect the presence of drugs. The search warrants used by law enforcement in the instances did not specifically authorize forced catheterizations as a way of collecting urine as evidence.

Comparing factors in the case to the 1966 Schmerber v. California U.S. Supreme Court ruling — in which the court decided that forced extraction and analysis of a blood sample is not compelled testimony and ruled that involuntary, warrantless blood samples could be taken — Lange wrote that balancing the factors in the South Dakota cases violated the Fourth Amendment, with forced catheterizations becoming unreasonable.

“Defendants' need to obtain the Plaintiffs' urine to prove a low-level drug crime did not justify subjecting the Plaintiffs to involuntary catheterization, a highly invasive — and in these cases — degrading medical procedure,” Lange wrote.


He added later that forcing those arrested to undergo catheterization was unreasonable “given the extreme intrusion on the Plaintiffs' dignitary interests, the nature of the suspected crime, and the availability of less intrusive means to collect evidence of guilt."

Lange noted while the community has an interest in enforcing drug laws, ingesting drugs “is one of the least serious drug crimes a person can commit.” Ingestion of marijuana is a misdemeanor and first time offenders convicted of ingestion of methamphetamine are typically entitled to probation. But South Dakota is the only state that imposes a felony for ingestion of a controlled substance, with the potential for a much higher sentence.

The following judgements were issued for plaintiffs in the case

  • In favor of Jason Riis and Cody Holcombe against the city of Pierre in the total amount of $75,000 each, including $50,000 each in court costs.

  • In favor of Aaron Henning against the city of Sisseton and Corporal Korey Ware in the amount of $99,000, including $69,000 in court costs.

  • In favor of Gena Alverez against former South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper Adam Woxland in the amount of $95,000, including $50,000 in court costs.

  • In favor of Aaron Peters against the city of Wagner, Wagner Police Department, Officers DesaRae Gravatt and Brian McGuire and six James Does in the amount of $96,000, including $56,000 in court costs.

In the case of Wagner, the city’s police department has stopped requesting search warrants for urine samples from those arrested because the First Judicial Circuit of South Dakota has required that search warrants cannot allow law enforcement catheterizing individuals. Instead, the Wagner Police Department requests search warrants for blood and sends that sample to the state crime lab to be tested for drugs.
The South Dakota ACLU applauded the settlement this week, saying that while drug use is a serious issue, the state can’t incarcerate its way out of addiction.

“South Dakota’s tough-on-crime approach to drug users struggling with addiction, as evidenced with the use of forced catheterization to secure evidence, doesn’t work,” said Libby Skarin, ACLU of South Dakota campaigns director. “Our lawmakers should see the outcome in this case and finally eliminate ingestion as a felony offense. It’s well past time for the state to prioritize people and not prisons and to help reform our state’s criminal legal system.”

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at
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