MCLU to Appeal Verdict in Excessive Force Case

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
May 20, 2008 12:00 am

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PORTLAND, ME – Attorneys with the Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation today said they would appeal a U.S. District Court decision granting summary judgment to a South Portland police officer who was accused of using excessive force against a Westbrook woman.

The case, Rosanna Morelli v. Steven Webster, stemmed from an incident in March, 2006 when Morelli was prevented from leaving a South Portland hotel by a police sergeant who shoved her against a wall, even though she was never placed under arrest.

“We continue to believe that what happened to Ms. Morelli, who sustained permanent injury at the hands of the police when she had done nothing wrong, was a clear case of excessive police force and a violation of her Constitutional rights,” said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union.

Heiden said that the case, which he is handling with MCLU cooperating attorney Barbara Goodwin, of the Portland law firm of Murray, Plumb and Murray, will be appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit .

The incident occurred when Morelli traveled to the Best Western Hotel in South Portland in her capacity as an exotic dancer. She soon became aware that she had walked into a local police sting operation and tried to leave the hotel room after confirming she was not under arrest.

In the hallway, she claims that a South Portland police sergeant prevented her from leaving the hotel by yanking her arm and shoving and holding her against a wall, resulting in serious and continuing injury to her shoulder. After she had been pushed against the wall and forced to return to the room, Morelli was told she was free to go and she never faced any charges in the incident.

In his May 19 ruling for the defendant, U.S. District Court Judge George Singal found that the officer had sufficient basis to justify detaining Morelli. Singal also found that the officer was entitled to “qualified immunity”– a legal standard that insulates the police from liability even when they are mistaken in their belief that their actions are lawful.

“The police should know that they cannot arrest someone without probable cause, and they certainly can’t literally use strong-arm tactics against innocent individuals.” said Barbara Goodwin, the plaintiff’s attorney. “It is up to the court to hold them accountable.”

The case in U.S. District Court is Docket 07– CV-89- P -S

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