Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Police goons in Maryland

Anti-abortion protesters sue Harford County, state police

Three young women who were arrested and strip-searched last month while rallying against abortion have filed a federal lawsuit against Harford County, Bel Air and state police, charging their First Amendment rights were violated. Angela Swagler, 18; Elizabeth Walsh, 20; and her sister, Joan Walsh, 18, are seeking unspecified damages in their lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Swagler, of Erie, Pa., flew to Maryland to participate in demonstrations for "Face the Truth," a Chicago-based anti-abortion group; the Walsh sisters, both of Baltimore County, were leading the rallies. "The nature of the [police's] actions were unbelievably egregious," said Daniel Cox, an attorney for the women. The women clearly posed no threat, but police "tormented" and "heckled" them because they did not agree with the protesters' message, he said. "Anything more would be to the level of the KGB, if we're not already there."

The three woman and about 20 others were protesting Aug. 1 at Route 924 and Route 24 near Bel Air, holding signs with anti-abortion pictures and messages, and offering pamphlets to drivers. The demonstrators moved into Bel Air at about 5 p.m. after three state troopers threatened to arrest them, according to the lawsuit. About 45 minutes later, a dozen troopers, county deputies and Bel Air police officers arrested 18 rally members without giving a reason, according to the lawsuit.

The protesters claim they were not impeding traffic.

Police took them to a police station, where a female officer searched the three women as they stood in a parking lot next to male protesters, reaching her hand down their shirts and pants, causing humiliation and embarrassment, the lawsuit alleges. The protesters were held in a jail cell overnight and were charged with loitering, disorderly conduct and failure to obey a lawful order. But, 10 days later, the charges were dropped.

Harford County State's Attorney Joe Cassilly said that he did not pursue the charges - although he believes the arrests were justified - because "what the demonstrators had already been through" was worse than any sentence they could have received. "You had some college kids, a number of folks from out of state, and I recognized that these people had already been through a lot," Cassilly said.

Greg Shipley, a spokesman for state police, defended trooopers. "Maryland state troopers acted in the interest of public safety and in accordance with guidance from the county state's attorney's office," Shipley said. "We will be prepared to justify those actions in court."

Harford had not yet been served with court summons, so officials on Thursday declined to comment.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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