MCLU Files Appeal in Excessive Force Case

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
August 5, 2008 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


PORTLAND –The Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation today filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in a case involving allegations of excessive force by a South Portland police officer. The U.S. District Court had granted summary judgment to the officer in a ruling in May.

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 officer who shoved her against a wall, severely injuring her shoulder. The plaintiff in this case was never placed under arrest.

“All women should feel safe turning to the police for help without fear that such an encounter will result in injury,” said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “For a police officer to injure an innocent woman undermines both public safety and constitutional protections.”

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 declining to violate any law and confirming she was not under arrest.

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

“We think that the police should be held accountable if they use strong-arm tactics against individuals who do not need to be restrained and have not committed any crime,” said Barbara Goodwin, the plaintiff’s attorney. “They should certainly know that they cannot detain someone without probable cause. The court needs to hold them accountable.”

The case in the U.S. Court of Appeals is Docket 08-1759. Oral arguments are likely to be scheduled this fall.

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release