The allegations in the case sound like a Third World dictatorship: Police officers talk over before the arrests what charges they’ll use, there are no explanations when the arrests are made, the suspects are denied access to legal counsel while in custody, and cops subject suspects to semi-public strip-searches.

Only this was in Bel Air, Md., and the pro-life protesters subjected to the treatment now have brought a legal action against the officers and town for violating their Constitutional rights.

“The truth of the matter is that our clients were heckled, arrested, imprisoned, shackled, and strip-searched twice for exercising their First Amendment rights,” said attorney Daniel Cox, who is allied with the Alliance Defense Fund is serving as local counsel. “No excuse exists for how our young clients were treated.”

The lawsuit accuses Bel Air, seven police officials and Harford County of violating the rights of 18 pro-life advocates who were arrested when they held signs and shared their message along a public street. Those arrested included three young women who faced repeated strip-searches while being cited for loitering, disorderly conduct and failure to obey.

Prosecutors later simply stopped prosecution of the case. City officials did not respond to WND attempts to reach them for a comment today.

The lawsuit now alleges a multitude of violations of the U.S. Constitution in actions by police who first ordered the pro-lifers off of county property, and later when they were complied and moved to city property, swooped down on them in seven marked police cars, shackled and jailed them, and performed the strip searches.

The arrest of Angela Swagler and other pro-life protesters is the subject of a multiple-county civil rights lawsuit filed against police and other officials

“This incident paints an ugly picture of the state of religious freedom and free speech in American today,” Kevin Theriot, ADF senior counsel, said. “The state shouldn’t prosecute Christians for expressing their beliefs on important social issues, nor deny them their constitutional rights.”

As least a dozen police officers broke up the peaceful protest set up by members of Defend Life. They were standing apart from each other on city property holding their anti-abortion signs touching the ground so they would not obstruct any sight lines, the ADF said.

The officers had ordered them off of county property because they did not have a permit to engage in free speech, the report said. And after the arrests, “Three young female participants – including teenagers – were subjected to two rounds of strip-searches,” the lawsuit said.

“The first search took place in the police station parking lot in front of other males. A female officer pulled out the young ladies’ shirt collars to inspect their breasts before reaching down their pants to feel around their waistlines. The Harford County Detention Center administered the second strip-search after the pro-life participants were transferred there. A female officer took the women one by one into a bathroom with a partially open door and ordered them to lift up their shirts and brassieres,” the lawsuit said.

The case also alleges although attorneys Steve Peroutka and Scott Whiteman arrived to consult with the defendants late in the evening, they were not allowed to contact those who had been jailed, some of whom were not released until mid-morning of the next day.

The pro-life protesters, some of whom also were being represented by the Thomas More Society of Chicago and the American Catholic Lawyers Association, named as defendants the town and the county, as well as officers Terrence Sheridan, Donald Ravadge, Mark Zulauf and Armand Dupre and three state patrol troopers.

“Defendants’ requirement to obtain a permit prior to peaceful assembly and protest on public property violates time-honored free speech practice under the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” the lawsuit said. The plaintiffs are seeking a declaratory judgment, injunctions and damages.

Among those arrested as Angela Swagler, 18, Elizabeth Walsh, 20, and Joan Walsh, 18.

They moved into Bel Air after being told to get off of county property. The officers then approached them inside Bel Air.

“Plaintiffs were put in handcuffs and held alongside the heavily trafficked public road for over a half hour, making them appear to be criminals to the public, putting both them and their message into disrepute, and exposing them to shouted ridicule,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said the sexually invasive searches then were performed, once in a public parking lot, and the second time in a jail restroom with a door partly open. The lawsuit said another inmate held on a separate case related that she had not been subjected to that type of search.

“As a result of the defendants’ past and present refusal to allow plaintiffs to exercise their political and social speech rights in traditional public forums, plaintiffs are suffering irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law,” the lawsuit said.


Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.