'Checks' of topless bar by police cost the state

December 14, 1990|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

State Police who spent too much time in a St. Mary's County topless bar -- working not watching -- have ended up costing the state $110,000.

The state has agreed to make a payment in that amount to settle a 5-year-old suit brought by Mary Rose Turner and her former husband, John F. Turner, the owners of Rosie's Place II, a Leonardtown bar that features topless dancing.

In their suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, the Turners charged two State Police officers with harassment for making repeated "bar checks" that allegedly disrupted the dancing women and sent patrons fleeing to their cars.

"I've got about 10 years of battling with these people," Mary Rose Turner said yesterday. "It's a small portion of money for the amount of time put in it, but I am proud at least it's over and I have won it."

The state Board of Public Works approved the settlement Wednesday. Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who chairs the board and who has been searching for ways to erase a $246 million state budget deficit, said nothing about the settlement.

Lee Saltzberg, one of the Turners' attorneys, said testimony in the case showed that one trooper who is now retired, Sgt. Charles Damman, made more than 125 unannounced visits to the bar in a five-year period ending in 1984.

"The bottom line was this guy did not like topless go-go places," Saltzberg said. "He thought it was his right to put this woman out of business."

The inspections often came on Friday and Saturday night, when as many as 100 people would be inside the bar, Saltzberg said.

"You can imagine a state trooper coming in in full uniform, with a helper and with a flashlight shining," Saltzberg said.

"My customers would run out the door like the place was on fire," Turner said. "If they're married, they didn't want to be in there. If they're single, they didn't want to go to court to find out what this was all about."

Millicent Edwards Gordon, an assistant attorney general who represents the State Police, said troopers had the right to make the inspections at any time, without warrants, under state law. She noted that police were often called to the bar as well for various disturbances.

The case had dragged on for five years, twice going to federal appeals court on various issues. The state decided to enter into settlement negotiations in September, Gordon said.

A footnote to the case: John F. Turner won the state Lotto game in February 1989, winning $4.4 million.

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