Owner of topless bar in St. Mary's County settles suit with state

October 24, 1990|By Raymond L. Sanchez | Raymond L. Sanchez,Evening Sun Staff

Mary Rose Turner, owner of a Lexington Park topless bar, calls it a small victory.

Turner, 58, who alleged in a civil rights suit that two state troopers conducted illegal searches of her St. Mary's County bar and targeted her for harassment, reached a tentative settlement of $110,000 with the State Police on Monday.

"I'm very happy it's over," Turner said yesterday. "It's a very small payment for the amount of time and the problems that it has caused me. They deprived me of my rights, my liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in 1985, alleged that the troopers -- Det. Sgt. Charles E. Dammann and Cpl. Harry A. Edwards Jr. -- illegally searched Rose's Place II over a four-year period beginning in 1981. Dammann has since retired and Edwards is assigned to the state Division of Correction.

The troopers allegedly searched ice machines, refrigerators, unopened boxes of liquor and even the bar's cash register without explantion, the suit said. The searches sometimes occurred as dancers entertained a packed house. The suit charged that as many as 200 illegal searches were conducted.

"I wish I knew what they were after," Turner said yesterday. "It's 10 years later and I can't even tell you what they were looking for."

Turner, as a result of the searches, was not cited for breaking any laws. The suit said the actions of the troopers, who sometimes sat in their cruisers outside the bar, had a chilling affect on business.

Paul Kramer and Lee Saltzberg, Turner's lawyers, estimate that troopers' actions resulted in a business loss of more than $200,000. Turner yesterday recalled an exodus of customers "like the place was on fire" each time the troopers visited.

"This brings to an end a long and torturous litigation to uphold the rights of citizens not to be harassed by the police because they may be in an unpopular business," Kramer said.

Assistant Attorney General Millicent Edwards Gordon said the settlement is subject to the approval of the state Board of Public Works. She declined to discuss the case.

The tentative settlement came as the case was set for trial this week after the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled on pre-trial legal issues in 1988 and earlier this year.

Monday's settlement was Turner's second legal victory related to Rose's Place II, which she still operates with her husband, John.

In 1982, Mary Rose Turner was convicted of violating the state's so-called "female sitters law," which made it a crime for bar owners to pay women to sit with patrons to encourage them to buy more drinks. The charges stemmed from a visit to the bar by undercover state police officers.

But the state Court of Appeals declared that law unconstitutional and reversed Turner's conviction in 1984, saying the "female sitters law" violated Maryland's Equal Rights Amendment.

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