Pennsylvania County Settles ACLU Lawsuit Brought on Behalf of Political Protesters

June 27, 2005 12:00 am

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LANCASTER, PA — In a victory for free speech and protest rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania today announced that the East Lampeter Township and a group of Lancaster County political activists have agreed to settle their civil lawsuit stemming from the activists’ arrests during a campaign visit by President Bush last July.

Known as the “Smoketown Six,” the activists stripped down to thong underwear to recreate an infamous image from the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in Iraq. However, within two minutes of assembling the dramatic piece of street theater, township and state police forcibly dismantled the human pyramid the men had created and arrested them for “disorderly conduct.” The charges were later dropped in October.

“It’s unfortunate that these men had to go through this process, but we are grateful that the clarity of hindsight has led East Lampeter Township to settle this matter,” said ACLU cooperating attorney J. Dwight Yoder, of the Lancaster law firm Gibbel, Krabill & Hess. “For liberty to thrive in Lancaster County in the future, citizens need to be assured that they can carry out their First Amendment rights without fear of arrest or intimidation by law enforcement.”

The men said that they wanted to express their disapproval of U.S. military policies in Iraq while using an image that would be difficult for the president to ignore, and at no point did they treat this protest as a joke. In order to ensure they were acting within the law, the men positioned themselves along the Old Philadelphia Pike, where a few other protesters and many Bush supporters were instructed to go, and wore thongs no different in design from those worn on beaches.

After the charges against the men were dropped, five of the six protesters filed a lawsuit against both East Lampeter Township and the Pennsylvania State Police in December. While the township and the activists have now settled, the lawsuit against the state police will continue to go forward.

“Unfortunately, the state police still believe that they can squash basic free speech rights of American citizens,” Yoder said. “We will vigorously carry forth with our action against the Pennsylvania State Police.”

The plaintiffs in the case are Tristan Egolf, Adam Willard, Jonathan Kohler, David O’Bryant and Benjamin Keely. Egolf died on May 7.

To read more about the case, and to view a video of the protest, go to: /node/9157.

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