Maryland county settles lawsuit over arrest, strip search of pro-life college girls
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, March 7, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Today attorneys representing the pro-life group Defend Life, along with several participants in the group’s “Face the Truth” tour of 2008, announced the settlement of a lawsuit with Hartford County, Maryland over the arrest, jailing, and strip search of a number of pro-life advocates in August 2008.
The federal lawsuit was filed against police officers of the Maryland State Police, Hartford County, and Bel Air. The plaintiffs claimed that the police committed lawless arrests when they arrested, jailed, shackled, and/or strip searched the 18 pro-lifers after they held signs and shared their message along a public street in August 2008.
At least 12 police officers had handcuffed the peaceful participants and denied them a reason for their arrests. Three young female participants - including teenagers - were subjected to two rounds of strip searches.
“This settlement is important for both the pro-life movement and the First Amendment rights of political speakers in general,” said Christopher A. Ferrara, President and Chief Counsel of the American Catholic Lawyers Association, which is representing six of the plaintiffs in the action.
Hartford County says it is adopting a new policy for handling peaceful, nonviolent protesters and will make provisions for confidential settlements with each of the plaintiffs.
“Hartford County has rectified a terrible wrong, and we only hope the Maryland State Troopers and Bel Air Police who participated in this disgraceful roundup of peaceful pro-life advocates, including sobbing youngsters, will follow Hartford County’s lead,” said Mr. Ferrara.
In August 2008, following the arrest of the pro-lifers, the state decided not to pursue the charges against them. In September 2008, attorneys with Alliance Defense Fund, the Thomas More Society of Chicago, and the American Catholic Lawyers Association filed the complaint with the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
The defendants soon filed an appeal, arguing the police were acting in good faith; however, the appeal was denied in January 2011.
According to the American Catholic Lawyers’ Association (ACLA), the plaintiffs had produced enough evidence, such as the unjustified arrests and strip searches, and 911 call records, to establish that officers did not act in good faith. The ACLA charged police with having acted on a “heckler’s veto,” arresting the pro-lifers based on 911 calls, and said that the evidence pointed to police bias.
The ACLA along with special counsel from the Thomas More Society are continuing to pursue the lawsuit against the Maryland State Police and the town of Bel Air.