Pro-Life Advocates Accuse Connecticut Police of Harassment, Illegal Arrest
by Maria Gallagher
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
August 5, 2004
Bridgeport, CT (LifeNews.com) — In what some legal experts say is a clear case of censorship, a Connecticut state police officer is accused of harassing a man for displaying large pictures of aborted babies on his truck.
Dennis Green, Director of a Virginia-based pro-life group called Life and Liberty Ministries, says trooper David Febbraio pulled him over last week near Bridgeport and said he could not continue driving on I-95 in Connecticut until the signs were removed from his vehicle.
Green refused, citing his right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.
Green said Febbraio then "began to fish for any reason to charge" him. He says a second officer then began to "verbally attack" him for displaying images of abortion on his truck. Green describes the vehicle as a "Truth Truck" which was traveling through Connecticut following a five-day trip in Boston.
Febbraio reportedly told Green, "People should have the freedom not to look at this."
One of Green’s companions, 24-year-old Michael Marcavage of Lansdowne, PA, was arrested and charged with a felony after he attempted to videotape the officers. Marcavage heads Repent America, a Christian evangelical organization based in Philadelphia.
Police say they ordered Marcavage back to the truck for his own safety, and that he was arrested when he refused to do so.
Marcavage reports that, during his time in police custody, he was ridiculed for his religious faith.
The Christian pro-life activist says Febbraio called him a "Jesus Freak," "wing nut," "brain-washed," and a "scam artist," among other things.
Marcavage says he spent four hours in jail and was eventually released on $1,000 bail.
Meanwhile, police told Green to get back into his truck and drive southbound until he was out of the state. Police told him that he would be followed and that he was not to stop or exit the highway.
According to the Associated Press, police said the truck was a safety concern because it was moving too slowly and was drawing a great deal of attention.
"Both the images and the vehicle’s speed were causing a curiosity backup and causing a public-safety concern," Sgt. Roger Beaupre told AP.
Marcavage denies that the truck was moving slowly.
The American Family Association Center for Law and Policy has agreed to defend the pair in court. The Center, which handles cases involving Constitutional issues, is also calling for an internal investigation into police conduct in the case.
According to the Center, a year ago, Febbraio was arrested and charged with eight counts of harassment of a disabled state police dispatcher.
Febbraio allegedly referred to the dispatcher as "Gimpy" and used the dispatcher’s home address to subscribe to magazines such as Playboy. Febbraio described the incident as a practical joke, according to the Hartford Courant.
"It appears that Connecticut has taken a page from Wyatt Earp’s playbook," said Brian Fahling, Senior Trial Attorney for the Center. "This is a picture-perfect example of how to mishandle First Amendment issues."
Michael J. DePrimo, Senior Litigation Counsel for the Center, added, "When a trooper behaves in such a rude, reckless and lawless manner, he opens the door for a federal lawsuit. That is exactly what Febbraio has done in this case."
The display of abortion-related pictures on the open highway is a subject of intense controversy. A number of pro-life organizations object to such highway displays, saying that they could be traumatizing to children and post-abortive women.
Others say they do more to turn off thepubolic to the pro-life message than to persuade people to oppose abortion.
But, while the traveling billboards may be offensive to some motorists, a number of legal experts say they cannot be banned from the highway because of Constitutional protections for free speech.