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Hartford County, Maryland Settling Federal Lawsuit for Illegal Mass Arrests

by Staff
March 7, 2011
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ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, ( -- Attorneys representing Defend Life, Inc., its key leaders, and several participants in the 2008 "Face the Truth" tour will announce a settlement with Hartford County, Maryland in a federal lawsuit stemming from the improper arrest, jailing, and offensive strip searches that its supporters were subjected to in August of 2008. The press conference will be at 10:30am EST in Lawyer's Mall at the Maryland State House on Monday, March 7, 2011.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit last year, complaining that Maryland State Police, assisted by Harford County and Bel Air city officials, committed lawless arrests and jailing of protesters, including outrageous "strip searches" of several college girls who had joined other pro-lifers in peaceably demonstrating against abortion on the public right of way in Harford County, Maryland in August of 2008. This event has been staged annually by Defend Life for the past decade each summer at sites all over Maryland, DC, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

The purpose for the Face the Truth Tour is to educate the citizens of region about the grave injustice of abortion and the killing of innocent children. Hundreds of volunteers from across the region gather at strategic locations and carry large photographic images of aborted preborn babies to show the true face of this barbaric practice.

"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 Fairfield, New Jersey-based American Catholic Lawyers Association, Inc., which is representing six plaintiffs in the action.

The settlement with Hartford County includes the adoption of a new county policy regulating the handling of peaceful protesters along with a confidential settlement with each plaintiff. "Harford 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," continued Mr. Ferrara.

The American Catholic Lawyer's Association along with special counsel from the Thomas More Society are aggressively continuing forward with its lawsuit against the Maryland State Police and the town of Bel Air.

Motions to dismiss the entire lawsuit filed by the Town of Bel Air, Bel Air police officers, the Maryland State Police Superintendent and state police troopers were denied in May of 2010. Some of those defendants filed an immediate appeal, arguing that police acted in good faith and were therefore immune from suit.

The 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals recently rejected that appeal in January 2011 which had been filed by defendant police officers.

The appeals court dismissed the appeal on the grounds that material questions of fact were presented as to whether the police defendants acted in good faith. Indeed, plaintiffs already adduced compelling evidence of bad faith, including legally baseless arrests followed by failure to prosecute belated criminal charges, needless strip searches of fully peaceable, nonviolent demonstrators, and 911 tapes and police recordings. The recordings showed how police enforced a "heckler's veto" (acting on phone calls objecting to the content of protest signs) in making the arrests, and showing deep police bias -- with officers commenting "...they can sit in a cell for an hour ... or three or four and rot."

In closing, Mr. Ferrara commented, "We are vigorously opposing motions for summary judgment by both the Troopers and Bel Air police and are responding with motions for summary judgment of our own. The Supreme Court's recent decision in Snyder v. Phelps should send a message to the remaining defendants: if people do not like what they see on pro-life signs, that is not police business, but a matter of First Amendment liberty. The Supreme Court has made clear, people who do not like a particular message should look the other way. If people cannot 'Face the Truth' about the horror of abortion, then they too should look the other way... if they can. Calling 911 is not the way to engage in debate in this country. The taxpayers are paying for law enforcement, not censorship of unpopular messages."

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