Skip to comments.Maryland State troopers lose, free speech wins
Posted on 04/17/2012 5:48:27 PM PDT by markomalley
Defend Life, a small, Baltimore-based pro-life group, is celebrating a major legal victory nearly four years after its members were illegally arrested, strip-searched and jailed by the Maryland State Police for peacefully protesting abortion at an intersection in Harford County.
In August 2008, 18 members of Defend Life displayed graphic posters of aborted fetuses along Route 24 as part of its annual "Face the Truth Tour." In response to irate calls from passing motorists, state troopers soon arrived and demanded to see the group's permit.
In a videotaped confrontation available on YouTube, founder Jack Ames politely asks a state trooper why they needed a permit when one had never been required in the past. "I'm a state police officer," was the retort. "I know the law."
Turns out he didn't. Neither did his duty officer. Even after the protesters regrouped within the town limits of Bel Air, Sgt. Dona Bohlen ordered them arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, failure to obey a lawful order and willfully obstructing traffic. After two juveniles were released, the other 16 were handcuffed, fingerprinted and transferred to the state police lockup.
"I was shackled and strip-searched twice," Angela Swagler, now a Christendom College senior, told The Washington Examiner. "They confiscated our cell phones. My parents were very worried because I called them every night. They thought I had been kidnapped."
The protesters were released from jail the next day, and the phony charges were soon dropped. But nine Defend Life members were not willing to let the matter rest there. They filed a federal lawsuit alleging violation of their constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett agreed with them. Last July, he granted the protestors summary judgment, ruling that their freedom of speech had been "unquestionably restricted." The constitutional violations were so egregious, the judge noted, that if the case ever went to trial, the only thing left for the court to decide would be the amount of damages awarded to the plaintiffs.
Those potential dollar signs got the attention of Maryland's three-member Board of Public Works, which quietly agreed to settle the lawsuit last month without comment. Under the terms of the $385,000 settlement, state troopers will have to undergo sensitivity training to learn how to enforce the law without violating the First and Fourth Amendments.
"The police can't enforce ordinances against disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct to restrict peaceful protests or picketing on public sidewalks, parks or streets unless there is an immediate threat to public safety," says attorney Tom Brejcha, chief counsel of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, who represented several of the plaintiffs. The American Catholic Lawyers Association and the Alliance Defense Fund represented the other litigants.
"The police also can't restrict speech based solely on the reaction of bystanders," Brejcha added. "There's no 'heckler's veto.' And if the police believe the protest is illegal, they must provide protesters with the opportunity to relocate before they threaten or arrest anybody."
The settlement also contains a provision that allows Defend Life to go back to federal court if the Maryland State Police attempt to interfere with any peaceful protest on public property within the next five years or attempt to restrict the content of any speech otherwise allowed, no matter how offensive it may be to passersby.
"A free society cannot exist if those whose sworn duty is to protect the public misuse their power to arrest and jail innocent people to curtail or stifle their message," Brejcha said during Monday's press conference announcing the settlement. Fortunately, the courts saw it the same way, and so free speech still exists in the Free State.
Well, it sounds like she got kidnapped to me by the thugs of the People's Republic of Maryland.
I hate to say it, Now sue, win an outrageous amount of money (teaching a lesson), then use that money for further protest and good deeds, maybe some support group for those women who have the baby.
Great to hear they won, but should there ever have been a question as to who was right and who had their rights interfered with?
They were arrested and strip searched? Forget the money compensation... I would prefer that every leo and their boss were permanently FIRED so they couldn’t infringe on someone else’s constitutional rights!!
If it was my daughter, I’d want to be awarded 1/2 an hour in a locked room with the dirtbag that ordered her strip searched.
Oh, and I’d get to “hold” his night stick, just so’s he couldn’t hurt himself.
If this had been an Occupy Whatever group defecating on the sidewalk in front of a bank, do you suppose they’d have been abused in this manner?
Highlights the "chip on the shoulder" attitude of the female MSP trooper (Bohlen).
..."I want to find out what I can tell them and what I can't tell them, you know what I mean? Because I am about to tell them to get the hell out of this county because I am a bitch."
"We had about 30 to 50 anti-abortionists interrupting my roadways."
and the wimpy assistant State's attorneys (Lewis) reaction -
1. Liberals get pissed over free speech.
2. Cop lies, harasses, and intimidates.
3. People are arrested and over-charged with bogus charges.
How many people are arrested falsely based on cops’ lies?
The thing that frosts me is that the money paid is from the taxpayers. The cops that initiated the debacle skate.
Note Ex-MSP Ms. Bohlen is now “retired”.
With a fat retirement check coming in every month, no doubt.
Assistant Auxiliary State’s Attorney Lewis is still on the Public Teat in real time, I’ll bet.
Who paid for this? The taxpayers. The useless "chief" is doing everything to make sure the officer is treated "fairly".
FIRE his thug ass. And take the chief's pension as a down payment.
Don’t matter, Homeland Security has the troublemakers’ fingerprints and photos and file now.
A victory for the people!
Maryland “Freak State” PING!
I guess the 1st and 4th Amendment rights of these good people mean nothing to the ACLU...............nevermind.
Awesome outcome! Thanks for the ping!