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Bel Air officers dismissed from Defend Life suit

A federal judge in Baltimore has dismissed Bel Air police officers as defendants in a lawsuit brought by anti-abortion demonstrators, finding the officers were simply acting as backup for Maryland state troopers and did not participate in the alleged constitutional-rights violations.

The members of Defend Life Inc. claim they were strip-searched after being arrested and detained following an Aug. 1, 2008, demonstration against abortion rights in Harford County. They allege the actions of the police violated their constitutional rights to free speech and to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

But U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett said the demonstrators failed to establish that the three Bel Air officers participated in any of the alleged violations.

The plaintiffs’ evidence indicated that the Bel Air officers arrived after the state troopers had arrested the demonstrators and seated them along a guardrail, Bennett wrote last week.

“An assisting officer would only be concerned with the rationale for the arrest itself; he would not anticipate that he would be held responsible for the [alleged] mistakes of law enforcement agents that had previously occurred and in which he had not participated,” Bennett wrote. “Put simply, plaintiffs have not put forward any evidence that would impose liability on the Bel Air defendants as separate entities from the Maryland State Police defendants.”

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit against the Maryland State Police is pending. Harford County reached an out of court settlement with the plaintiffs in March.

Defend Life members held up signs and pictures of aborted fetuses near the intersection of Routes 24 and 924 in Harford County.

State troopers, responding to complaints from motorists, told the demonstrators they needed a permit to protest. When the demonstrators resumed their protest several miles away on Route 24, the troopers arrested them.

The plaintiffs — Jack Ames, Laura Beeson, Nathan Cain, Patrick Mooney, Albert Stecklein III, Timothy Sullivan, Jessica Ward, Angela Swagler and Elizabeth Walsh — have alleged several instances of mistreatment during and following their arrest at the state police barracks and Harford County Detention Center. All charges against them were nolle prossed less than two weeks later.