State police in Maryland have been ordered to undergo training on the First and Fourth Amendments following a 2008 incident during which 18 pro-life protesters were arrested, shackled and strip searched.
The incident occured when members of the group Defend Life peacefully demonstrated on public property in Hartford County in August, 2008, as part of their “Face the Truth” campaign.
Around a dozen State officers arrived on the scene and told the protesters that they did not have a permit and would be arrested unless they packed up and left.
When asked what specific ordinance said the demonstrators needed a permit to protest, one officer responded “I’m not getting into it at five o’clock at night… I’m a State police officer, I know the law – THAT’S IT.”
Part of the incident was captured on film.
Attorneys with the anti-arbortion groups the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), the Thomas More Society of Chicago, and the American Catholic Lawyers Association revealed that after their arrest, the protesters, including women and young girls, one as young as 14, were put into leg shackles and strip searched twice, while being denied the right to make phone calls, and make contact with lawyers. The protesters were kept in jail overnight.
Reports indicate that the first strip search took place in the police station parking lot in full view of male officers. The second strip search was conducted at the Harford County Detention Center.
Life Site News reports that The Maryland Board of Public Works voted to settle the lawsuit that has been ongoing ever since. As part of the settlement in the case, the state of Maryland will also pay $385,000 to the protesters to cover legal fees.
When the county confirmed that there is no requirement for a “permit” as the protesters had been told, they were instead charged with loitering, disorderly conduct and failure to obey a lawful order. All the charges were dropped after one week.
Attorney Tom Brejcha revealed that the real reason for the arrests stemmed from a classic case of “heckler’s veto,” a violation of the First Amendment.
“we netted a harvest of police phone and radio call transcripts, which showed the reason for the arrests were complaints from the public, members of whom were upset about the content of the [pro-life protesters'] signs.” said Brejcha.
Brejcha also revealed that following the arrests, one police officer stated over the radio that as far as she was concerned the protesters could “sit in a cell for an hour… or three or four and rot.”
“There was a lot of hard feelings and animus against the pro-life position on the part of many of these arresting officers, including at the supervisory level.” Brejcha said.
Brejcha added that the case had taken four years to settle as it was “vigorously defended by the municipalities and the state police.”
The town of Bel Air and Hartford county agreed to settlements with the protesters.
The ADF has issued a statement noting “Under the terms of the settlement, Maryland State Police cannot issue countywide dispersal orders against peaceful pro-life speakers, cannot illegally arrest pro-life speakers who are exercising their constitutionally protected free speech and assembly rights, must provide acceptable reasons for asking any speakers to move, must provide speakers with the opportunity to move before threatening anyone with arrest, cannot censor constitutionally protected messages and images on signs, and must participate in training on rights protected by the First and Fourth amendments to the U.S. Constitution,”.
The Thomas More Society issued a press release that stated “While we applaud the settlement, we remain appalled by the illegal behavior of the Maryland State Police.
We sincerely believe that with a better understanding of the First Amendment and a newfound respect for citizen protests, the Maryland State Police will strive hereafter to protect all the rights bestowed on individuals by the U.S. Constitution,”