IOWA CITY -- Two women who were arrested at campaign rally for President Bush last fall and strip-searched at a county jail say law enforcement officers conspired to violate their constitutional rights.
Alice McCabe and Christine Nelson are suing the U.S. Secret Service and three of its agents, the Iowa State Patrol and two patrolmen, and Linn County.
The two women, both school teachers in their 50s, were among scores of people who were arrested, removed or barred from Bush rallies last year for wearing shirt or buttons favoring his Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry, or for vocally criticizing the president.
"I believe the federal government behaved very badly in this situation," said David O'Brien, the women's attorney.
Bob Teig, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Cedar Rapids, said the office had not yet seen the complaint and could not comment.
McCabe and Nelson are described in the lawsuit as political novices, motivated by their opposition to Bush administration policies in Iraq.
Both attended Bush's Sept. 3 rally at a Cedar Rapids park, with McCabe holding a sheet of paper reading, "No More War," and Nelson wearing a Kerry button.
While standing on a sidewalk near, but not inside, the rally site, a Secret Service agent told McCabe she was on private property and would have to move.
The women moved to a parking area, where a member of the local Republican Party was holding a bucket to collect contributions.
The agent approached again and repeated the order to move. After asking why, McCabe was arrested by a state trooper. Nelson was arrested later by another trooper, according to the lawsuit.
The women -- among five protesters arrested during the rally -- were handcuffed, taken to the county jail, strip-searched and charged with criminal trespass.
The charges were dropped months later.
Their lawsuit claims their rights to free speech, free assembly, equal protection and due process were violated. It claims federal agents conspired with local and state law enforcement to deprive them of those rights.
The lawsuit claims the decision by police to conduct a strip search violated constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Typically suspects are searched only if authorities have cause to believe they possess a weapon or illegal drugs, O'Brien said.
"We don't think they had a reasonable belief that these two, 50-year-old school teachers had a weapon or contraband in their possession that day," O'Brien said, whose clients requested a jury trial and unspecified damages.
Their experience in the world of political protest was hardly unique during the 2004 election cycle, said Chris Hansen, senior staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Dozens of people were arrested for protesting outside events, removed after getting inside ticket-only areas or asked to sign forms endorsing Bush to get inside.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently asked a judge to toss out a case filed by the ACLU and two West Virginia residents who were arrested for wearing anti-Bush shirts at a campaign rally.
"We're still seeing it happen," said Hansen, citing recent cases of protesters being escorted from appearances Bush has made in recent months to tout his Social Security plan.
"During the election, and now after it ... these kinds of problems are popping up almost every time the president travels," Hansen said.
© 2005 The Associated Press