Maryland Judge Rules For Pro-Life Advocates Shackled, Strip-Searched by Police

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 4, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Maryland Judge Rules For Pro-Life Advocates Shackled, Strip-Searched by Police

by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 4
, 2009

Bel Air, MD ( — A federal judge in Maryland has sided with pro-life advocates who have filed a lawsuit against State Police, Harford County, and the city of Bel Air. The case involves an Alliance Defense Fund lawsuit on behalf of pro-life women who were shackled and strip searched after peacefully protesting abortion in Maryland.

The incident involves a group of pro-life advocates who, in August 2008, were arrested without warning by Hartford County State Troopers during their multi-city protest featuring abortions signs.

At least a dozen police officers arrived in more than seven marked vehicles and then arrested, jailed, shackled, and strip searched them.

Alliance Defense Fund and allied attorneys filed a lawsuit against Harford County, the town of Bel Air, and seven police officials on behalf of the young women.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett refused to grant motions by the defendants to dismiss the lawsuit.

In his opinion, Judge 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," he added.

Bennett also found insufficient reason to dismiss the women’s unlawful seizure claims.

The decision is good news to ADF Litigation Counsel Daniel Blomberg.

“Pro-life advocates obviously shouldn’t be jailed, shackled, and strip-searched for expressing their beliefs,” he told “The judge’s refusal to dismiss this lawsuit is a positive development for our clients, who deserve justice after what they endured.”

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.

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.

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.

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

ADF-allied attorney Daniel Cox is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit, Swagler v. Harford County.

“The truth of the matter is that our clients were heckled, arrested, imprisoned, shackled, and strip searched twice for exercising their First Amendment rights,” he said. “No excuse exists for how our young clients were treated.”

At least 12 police officers handcuffed 18 peaceful participants in the incident and denied them a reason for their arrests. They had relocated to Bel Air after being told by officers to move from another location for not having a permit to engage in free speech activities.

Officials cast the pro-life participants in leg irons, denied them permission to call parents until after midnight.

The complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Northern Division, in Swagler v. Harford County also involves the Thomas More Society of Chicago and the American Catholic Lawyers Association who are representing some of the other participants.

Related web sites:
Alliance Defense Fund –

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