Officials in Md. can't shake violations against young pro-life advocatesCourt says it won't dismiss charges of unlawfully jailing, shackling, strip-searching young pro-life women
Thursday, June 04, 2009
BALTIMORE — A federal judge refused Wednesday to grant motions by the Maryland State Police, Harford County, and the city of Bel Air to dismiss a lawsuit brought against them by Alliance Defense Fund attorneys on behalf of three young pro-life women. ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit last September, arguing that the women’s constitutional rights were violated by officers who arrested, jailed, shackled, and strip-searched them for sharing a peaceful pro-life message along a public street.
“Pro-life advocates obviously shouldn’t be jailed, shackled, and strip-searched for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Litigation Counsel Daniel Blomberg. “The judge’s refusal to dismiss this lawsuit is a positive development for our clients, who deserve justice after what they endured.”
In the opinion, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett wrote, “The Amended Complaint sets forth sufficient facts to suggest that the Trooper Defendants, through their arrest of Plaintiffs, executed a policy of suppressing free speech that was based upon an unconstitutionally vague and overbroad ordinance.... This Court finds with respect to the alleged sexually invasive strip search at the Detention Center, Plaintiffs have sufficiently stated a claim....” Bennett also found insufficient reason to dismiss the women’s unlawful seizure claims.
In August 2008, at least 12 state, county, and city police officers handcuffed 18 peaceful participants, including the three women, in Defend Life’s “Face the Truth” Pro-life Tour. They had started their peaceful pro-life event along a public county road but relocated to the town of Bel Air after being told by officers to move on for not having a county permit to engage in free speech activities.
Once in custody, the three young women--two of whom are teenagers--were subjected to two rounds of less-than-private strip searches. Only after the unlawful strip searches and a night spent in jail were they told why they were arrested. A week after their release, the state dropped the charges ultimately filed against them: loitering, disorderly conduct, and failure to obey a lawful order. None of the participants were ever charged with any sort of permit violation.
ADF-allied attorney Daniel Cox is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit, Swagler v. Harford County.
- Opinion issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland
- Photo of a Maryland state trooper handcuffing Joan Walsh, 18, during the Defend Life event in Bel Air
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.