Published on Thursday, December 9, 2004 by the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal (Pennsylvania)
Anti-Bush Protesters Plan Lawsuit Over Arrests
by Justin Quinn
Lawyers representing "The Smoketown Six" are scheduled to announce today the filing of a federal civil rights lawsuit against law enforcement agents who arrested the protesters during a visit by President Bush to East Lampeter Township earlier this year.
A press conference concerning the lawsuit is expected to be held this morning in Philadelphia.
The lawsuit alleges that the demonstrators' right to free speech was violated after police arrested them for stripping down to thong underwear and piling on top of each other in an attempt to re-enact a photograph from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.
The protesters were taken into custody minutes before the president's tour bus passed through Smoketown in July. They later were charged with disorderly conduct.
In October, Lancaster County District Attorney Donald Totaro dropped the charges against the six protesters. While distasteful, Totaro said his office found that the group's actions failed to create "a hazardous or physically offensive condition."
"As the United States Supreme Court has noted on several cases, the First Amendment embodies a profound national commitment to the free exchange of ideas, including 'ideas that the overwhelming majority of people might find distasteful or discomforting,' " Totaro said after issuing his decision. "The Supreme Court has also stated that while not absolute, 'the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter or its content.'"
The individuals planning to file the lawsuit include Tristan Egolf, 32, of West Lemon Street; Jonathan Kohler, 21, of North Marshall Street; Russell Willard, 18, of September Drive; Adam Willard, 21, of South Lime Street; Benjamin Keely, 22, of West Lemon Street; and David O'Bryant, 21, of Ruby Street.
After the district attorney's office dropped the charges, Egolf, the group's unofficial spokesman, said a lawsuit against police was imminent.
"We hope to reassert our rights as Americans and set a precedent to which the police must adhere," Egolf said. "We hope to preserve the Union."
Paula Knudsen, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, confirmed Wednesday that the press conference is being held today, but declined further comment.
According to a press advisory issued by the ACLU, "the lawsuit charges that police officers of East Lampeter Township's Police Department, state troopers from the Pennsylvania State Police and federal agents violated the men's constitutional rights by illegally arresting them in order to suppress a peaceful, symbolic political protest against President Bush."
East Lampeter Township Police Chief Dale Jerchau could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Jack J. Lewis said it is the agency's policy not to comment on pending litigation.
Today's press conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. outside the National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St., Independence Mall.
© 2004 Lancaster Newspapers