MCLU Argues Against Police Brutality

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
November 3, 2008 12:00 am

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Urges Appeals Court to Reverse Earlier Ruling


PORTLAND — Tomorrow, attorneys for Rosanna Morelli will present arguments in her police brutality case at the U. S. Court of Appeals in Boston. Ms. Morelli, who was injured by a South Portland police officer in 2006, hopes to persuade the court to allow her case to go to trial. The police never arrested Ms. Morelli, who suffered from a torn rotator cuff from the incident.

“If the police don’t follow the law, it breeds disrespect for law in the public,” said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation, who will argue on behalf of Ms. Morelli. “We’re asking the court to police the police because in our country, nobody is above the law.”

Before the altercation with the police, Ms. Morelli earned a living as an exotic dancer and entertainer. The police hired Ms. Morelli as part of a prostitution sting operation, but she refused police temptation to violate the law. When Ms. Morelli realized that the police were trying to entrap her, she decided to leave. That is when the officer grabbed her arm, and shoved her against a wall, holding her there for a number of minutes, before being told that she was free to go. She never broke the law and never faced any charges in the incident.

“Violence against women continues to be a terrible problem,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the MCLU. “Women are encouraged to go to the police when they have been the victims of violence, but it will be hard for women to trust the police if issues like this are not addressed.”

In finding for the police, the U.S. District Court in Portland held that trial on constitutional violations by the police officer was not appropriate because the officer was shielded by “qualified immunity”, which protects government actors from reasonable—but mistaken—violations of civil rights. Ms. Morelli’s attorneys will attempt to persuade the appeals court that the constitutional violations were severe enough that the case should be allowed to proceed to trial.

Arguments in the Appeals Court in Boston are scheduled for Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. The case in the U.S. Court of Appeals is Docket 08-1759. In addition to Mr. Heiden, the appellant is represented by Barbara Goodwin of the law firm Murray, Plumb & Murray.

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