'Defend Life' Awarded $385,000 in Illegal Arrest Case

An anti-abortion advocacy group was awarded the money in a settlement from the state as a result of a federal lawsuit against the state police.


Members of the national anti-abortion group Defend Life rallied Monday morning in Pikesville to mark a it received from the State of Maryland as result of a federal lawsuit.

The state settled after the group filed a lawsuit stating that in 2008, Maryland State Police in Harford County from the group, violating their First Amendment rights.

"The mass arrest, handcuffing, prolonged detention, jailing, and needless, invasive strip searches of fully peaceable, non-violent pro-life demonstrators by state police was an outrageous suppression of citizens’ fundamental First and Fourth Amendment rights in a traditional public forum," a news release from the group stated.

"We are very grateful for this settlement, thankful to Almighty God," Jack Ames, director of Defend Life, said during a news conference.

The lawsuit stems from arrests made during an August 2008 protest that Defend Life held on Route 24 in Bel Air.

During that protest, some motorists had called in complaints to authorities about what they saw, including prostesters' signs that showed aborted fetuses, the group and police have said.

State Police responded, consulted the Harford County State's Attorney's Office and arrested 18 protesters, said Greg Shipley, spokesman for Maryland State Police.

State Police did not send a representative to the news conference Monday morning in Pikesville. But Monday afternoon, Shipley told Pikesville Patch that in 2008, protestors were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, failure to obey a lawful order, and willfully obstructing the free flow of traffic.

Those charges against members of the group were later dropped, "according to the decision of the Harford County State's Attorney," Shipley said.

The , according to the group's news release. That money will pay the group's legal expenses and the remaining will be split among 10 of those arrested, it stated.

Shipley said have learned from that "challenging situation," and are taking certain measures as a result of that case. For example, police are undergoing First Amendment rights training and will continue to do so, he said.

Still, the police administration stands behind its troopers.

"We believe our troopers acted in good faith with a challenging situation," Shipley said. "They were confronted with numerous phone calls that came in from motorists, some who were very upset, whose children were very upset from what was going on."

He said the troopers responded to the scene, consulted the Harford County State's Attorney's office and based on that advice, "took the action they thought appropriate at the time to deal with the situation."

"Our troopers work very hard each day to uphold the rights of the citizens they encounter and we will continue to do that," Shipley said.

According to a news release from Defend Life, under the terms of the settlement, state police cannot:

  • Issue countywide dispersal orders against peaceful speakers.
  • Illegally arrest speakers who are exercising their constitutionally protected free speech and assembly rights.

And state police must:

  • Provide acceptable reasons for asking any speakers to move.
  • Provide speakers with the opportunity to move before threatening anyone with arrest.
  • Not censor constitutionally protected messages and images on signs.
  • Participate in training on rights protected by the First and Fourth amendments to the U.S. Constitution

Among the speakers Monday were Thomas Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society in Chicago, the attorney who represented 10 of the people arrested.

During the news conference Monday, a few members of Defend Life held signs, allegedly showing photos of aborted fetuses, for passersby along Reisterstown Road.

The group's mission is to make abortion illegal as well as to make it unthinkable, Ames said.

officers were cleared of wrongdoing in July 2011.

Harford County settled with the anti-abortion group in March 2011 for an undisclosed amount.

The county also agreed to adopt a new policy “regulating the handling of peaceful protesters," according to a Defend Life spokesman.

Bel Air Native April 18, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Great. Now they've found a new way to make money. I like how, after paying legal expenses, the 10 protesters are going to split the monetary award. If they were really dedicated to their cause, they'd give the money to unwed mothers, a children's hospital, or even to purchase more of those stupid t-shirts.
franking April 18, 2012 at 02:32 PM
How do you know they won't, and what business is it of yours what other people do with their money?
TOPNOTCH April 18, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Yes, how dare any group who was unlawfully arrested and detained for peaceful protest receive any settlement! They should be arrested again!
George Newman April 18, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Sweet !!! I know these people. They were not obstructing traffic, and are never disorderly. Of course the message presented was an offensive message. Just ask all the fetuses that are aborted every day. Ooops .... we can't..... they don't have anyone to speak for them. Except for a few brave souls that will step up, and jostle our conscience with a clear message.
Bob April 18, 2012 at 10:56 PM
What franking said. How in the world do you know what they're going to do with the money?!
Bob April 18, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Awesome and spot on statement, George. Any argument in favor of "choice" is full of holes.
Bel Air Native April 19, 2012 at 02:41 AM
"Their money" was taken from my tax dollars, so it actually is my business. I find a monetary settlement beyond their court costs to be frivolous. This only encourages others to do the same. You people need to start thinking with your wallets instead of your hearts.
franking April 19, 2012 at 10:54 PM
What is being strip searched and thrown in jail without a lawyer or phone call worth? It's not their fault their civil rights were violated. If you don't want to pay these settlements hold your public officials accountable and make sure they don't violate people's constitutional rights. Fat chance that will happen in liberal la la land MD.
Bob April 19, 2012 at 11:55 PM
Bel Air Native, what the settlement SHOULD do is encourage law enforcement agencies to gain a better knowledge of constitutional law...but I won't hold my breath.
Bel Air Native April 20, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Another good way to avoid getting arrested and strip searched would be to stay home and mind one's own business. Stop telling women what to do with their bodies and imposing one's morality on others. Although abortion may not be an option that I would choose, I don't condemn anyone who may have agonizingly had to make that choice.
franking April 20, 2012 at 03:50 AM
I'm glad people didn't take that hands off and mind your own business approach with slavery and the holocaust. But whether you agree with abortion or not, we should all agree with freedom of association and the right to assemble and peacefully protest. It's a shame liberals aren't tolerant of diversity of thought. We don't need a bill of rights to protect speech everyone agrees with. It's there precisely to protect that which is controversial.
Bel Air Native April 20, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Again, you're all for the right to assemble but not the right to make personal choices with regards to one's reproductive health. Pick and choose your freedoms. As for abortion, maybe you can pray about it and it will go away.
franking April 20, 2012 at 03:35 PM
A lot of people believe that a woman shouldn't have the right to have her child sucked down a sink. But all Americans should support the right to petition government for redress of grievances and peacefully protest. You don't have to agree with what they're saying to support their right to say it.
Clinicalpsych April 20, 2012 at 05:58 PM
I have found in my practice that these folks are often dealing with issues of rejection by their own parents, or inadequacies on their own part as parents. This transposition of caring to another cause offsets a perceived failing in their own lives. This is often the case in any group who advocates extremely (not to say that their position is extreme, but rather that they are extreme advocates).
TOPNOTCH April 20, 2012 at 06:19 PM
I'd say that's commendable then. They were treated poorly, and instead of lashing out at society. they take up a cause that they believe in.
Bel Air Native April 20, 2012 at 06:32 PM
I still say MYOFB!
Karl Schuub April 20, 2012 at 07:19 PM
When during the gestational process is it not extreme? As medicine has progressed and survivability becomes possible for fetuses 5-6 months...and since we know it's legal to kill an "abortable" fetus at 5-6 months (and later), but at the same time have the ability to routinely save a wanted fetus of the same gestation where is the moral line? I would suggest there is a point which a fetus has a right to liberty and justice as much as any inconvenience of a mother. Wanting to protect those infants hardly seems extreme to me and by recent polls most everyone else as well. The line has been blurred; what we medically knew in 1970 when Roe v. Wade was adopted is no longer the case. These people that everyone seems to want to condemn seem to be a small willing voice of sanity for those instances described.
franking April 20, 2012 at 07:24 PM
I have a general profile of soft science majors that I think is pretty accurate, too.
Bob April 21, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Bel Air Native, who's stopping the women from imposing their values on the babies' bodies? Just because it's not my baby or my body doesn't mean I don't have a moral responsibility to try and stop a murder.
Clinicalpsych April 21, 2012 at 03:45 PM
"It's a shame liberals aren't tolerant of diversity of thought." Nor of education and sciences, I suppose.


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