Two brothers arrested nearly two weeks ago while engaged in a peaceful protest near the Maryland State House have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Maryland Capitol Police and the officer who arrested them.
Jeff and Kevin Hulbert, in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, seek unspecified damages from the Maryland Capitol Police, Sgt. Brian T. Pope and Col. Michael Wilson. The arresting officer and chief of police are sued in both their personal and professional capacities for what the Popes allege was a violation of their First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
“We still have members who are afraid to join me and my brothers and sisters and the Patriot Picket,” said Jeff Hulbert. “They still fear they could be arrested. This is the effect that the powers here at the State House have caused. They’ve caused a chilling effect.”
A spokesman for the Department of General Services, which oversees the Maryland Capitol Police, said he was unaware of the lawsuit, according to the Associated Press.
On Feb. 5, Jeff and Kevin Hulbert were arrested by capitol police while taking part in a pro-Second Amendment protest on the sidewalk bordering College Avenue near the State House.
Hulbert was arrested for refusing to leave the sidewalk area, the same area where he and his group, Patriot Picket, have set up every Monday night dating back to the 2016 General Assembly session. Kevin Hulbert, also a member of the group and organizer of the protest, was arrested while recording video of the arrest of his brother Jeff.
Both men were charged by civil citations for disorderly conduct, trespass and other related crimes. They were later released on their own recognizance.
The men, founding members of a Pro-Second Amendment group called Patriot Picket, have come to Annapolis every Monday night during the 90-day session since 2016. None of the other protests, which typically include provocative signs including one calling House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. “traitors” have resulted in arrests or citations.
In their lawsuit, the brothers allege that Wilson, the chief of the Maryland Capitol Police, once worked for Miller and obtained his current job with the assistance of the Senate president. The brothers allege Wilson “ordered that these citations be issued in retaliation for the content of the plaintiffs’ protected speech.”
The brothers further allege that Wilson ordered that they each be issued two additional citations on Feb. 6 after they returned to Annapolis to speak with reporters about their arrests because Wilson had been watching the criticism he and his agency received in news reports and social media.
Police said at the time that the arrests were made because of safety concerns related to two pedestrian-vehicle accidents last summer not related to any protest. Officials with the department added that the group of about 10 people was blocking pedestrian access to the sidewalk, though photos and a statement from the ACLU of Maryland dispute that claim.
They were issued additional citations on Feb. 6 after returning to the State House grounds and speaking with reporters about the incident the night before.
All of those charges were ultimately dropped after Maryland Capitol Police spoke to Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams, who reviewed surveillance video and determined no laws had been broken.
The Hulberts and as many as 400 supporters returned to Annapolis to march in the same area where the arrests took place.
Before that march, Republican legislators said they received assurances from the Maryland Capitol Police that no such incidents would occur in the future and that officers would receive training on free speech activities.
Still, Jeff Hulbert said that it wasn’t enough.
“The most important thing is we need to get the word to the far corners of Maryland that the public sidewalk belongs to voters who have a message for legislators that if there is any fear, anywhere in Maryland, anywhere, that you could be arrested because of your political message and the politicians are tired of being criticized, then that’s a loss,” Hulbert said. “We have to have this message. Without the public sidewalk, free of interference, we just don’t have the democracy or the republic we deserve.”