Maryland state troopers are undergoing additional training in citizens’ First and Fourth Amendment rights as part of a settlement between state police and a group of anti-abortion demonstrators arrested in 2008.
The settlement also upholds the right of protesters to publicly display graphic images of aborted fetuses, according to Jack Ames, founder and director of Defend Life, the Baltimore nonprofit that organized the demonstration.
Ames was one of several plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit, settled in March, who claimed the protesters were arrested and detained illegally. Ames, accompanied by his attorneys, announced the details of the settlement on Monday outside the state police headquarters in Pikesville.
“We’re delighted,” Ames told The Gazette afterward, adding he hoped the settlement would set a national precedent, protecting protesters in other states from the so-called “heckler’s veto,” in which free speech is restricted because others don’t like what’s being said.
In August 2008, troopers arrested 18 people in Harford County after they displayed large photographs of aborted fetuses during a roadside demonstration organized by Defend Life. Motorists had called police to complain about the graphic images, as well as the obstruction of traffic, leading to the arrest some protesters on charges including disorderly conduct and failure to obey a lawful order.
Defend Life uses the provocative, graphic images to counteract a “media blackout” on the unpleasant facts of abortion, Ames said.
As part of the agreement, state police will pay $385,000, including attorney fees, to the lawsuit’s 10 plaintiffs and will provide troopers with remedial training in the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the provisions that protect the right to free speech and guard against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The retraining already has begun, and is being led by an assistant attorney general, said Greg Shipley, state police spokesman.
“We will comply with the terms of the agreement,” he said.
All charges against the demonstrators were later dropped, but troopers had acted in good faith to respond to numerous of complaints, Shipley said.
Defend Life also argued several teenage girls who were part of the demonstrations were strip-searched after their arrest, a claim disputed by state police.
“The Maryland State Police did not strip-search anyone,” Shipley said. “We do not routinely perform strip searches as part of an arrest.”