WRENTHAM, MASSACHUSETTS, February 14, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Massachusetts judge has thrown out charges against a peaceful pro-life activist who was arrested after distributing literature at a Catholic Church. Now the police may be facing a civil rights lawsuit of their own.
Pro-life activist Peter D’Atillio was arrested last August while handing out two-inch wide bookmarks with the phone number for pregnancy counseling services and assistance at the St. Rocco fair, an annual Italian festival held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Franklin.
According to the police report, the festival chairman complained to police and asked D’Attilio be removed. After being approached by police, D’Attilio offered to leave, but the arresting officer wrote that as D’Attilio “started to leave, I told him to stop and went to block him with my arm extended.” The pro-life activist says that when the officer prevented him from leaving the property, “I told him he was illegally detaining me.” After D’Attilio exercised his right not to produce identification, he was arrested and handcuffed. D’Attilio claims he was also choked on his knees before being forced into the cruiser, then punched in the face. In a photo taken days later, a black eye is evident.
While being booked, D’Attilio said the booking officer, Sgt. Mark J. Manocchio, asked him if he were planning on blowing up the fair, because pro-life people “are known for that sort of thing.” D’Attilio was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. If convicted, he faced two-and-a-half years in prison and a $650 fine.
D’Attilio also said his vehicle had been ransacked and searched by bomb-sniffing dogs. D’Attilio said the police told him he had been added to the federal terrorist watch list, as well.
Last Thursday, Wrentham District Court Judge Stephen Ostrach dismissed the charges against him, saying the prosecutor’s charge that failing to show a police officer identification rises to the level of disturbing the peace was “remarkable…nonsense.”
“It was a classic case of police misconduct,” Brian Camenker of MassResistance told LifeSiteNews.com. “It was so egregious the judge threw out all the charges and berated the prosecutor for wasting his time.”
Camenker added that the Thomas More Society, the Chicago-based public interest law-firm that defended D’Attilio against the charges, had already contacted him to begin a civil rights lawsuit over the police response.
“I find it really encouraging as a pro-life activist to see a judge recognizing so clearly that Peter D’Attilio’s civil rights were violated,” Eric Scheider, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, told LifeSiteNews.com. “Often, as pro-lifers, we’re treated as pariahs.”
Camenker said D’Attilio was formulating a civil rights countersuit. D’Attilio’s lawyer, Stephen Foley, has previously represented other pro-life clients, including Operation Rescue. He could not be immediately reached for comment.
“I would certainly encourage Peter to do so,” Scheidler told LifeSiteNews. “This is a great opportunity for Peter D’Attilio to advance the pro-life cause by sending a very clear message to police forces across the country that this kind of unfair treatment of pro-life activists not only won’t be tolerated but will lead to serious repercussions.”
“Defending this movement in court is essential to our survival,” he said.
Camenker, who is active in the state’s pro-life and pro-family movement, said police need to get the message that they “can’t do that to people simply for handing out literature that you don’t like.” He said particularly since 2009, “This kind of thing has been going on all over the state.”
Both activists attributed the new hostility toward the pro-life cause to a 2009 Department of Homeland Security report on “rightwing extremism,” describing “lone wolves” who hold pro-life or pro-family views as “the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.”
“Ever since Barack Obama came into office there has been an aggressive effort to undermine peaceful pro-life activity by casting pro-life activists as terrorists,” Scheidler said. “We’ve seen the Department of Homeland Security listing pro-lifers as potential terrorists. We’ve seen special meetings between the FBI and pro-abortion groups.”
He added his own Pro-life Action League, as well as its youth outreach division, Generations for Life, were listed as organizations to be monitored.
Camenker attributed much of the police’s “visceral hostility” to “getting involved with these left-wing groups, like the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the ACLU, and the ADL. All of these groups consider pro-family people extremists.” He said additional police scrutiny was a waste of resources. “Our people tend to be more law-abiding,” he said.
Ultimately the attacks on the peaceful exercise of constitutional liberties has rendered the nation a service: the victories of the pro-life movement against these attacks have preserved those freedoms for people of all viewpoints, Scheidler said.
“If it weren’t for the pro-life movement, the First Amendment – and in this case I suppose the Fourth Amendment, as well – would be shredded,” he said.
“I believe the pro-life movement is the floodwall standing between tyranny and liberty.”