Arrest suit moved to U.S. court

NAACP, ACLU contend case of five men indicates broad pattern of police abuse


A lawsuit filed by the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union against the Baltimore Police Department and the state-run city jail has been transferred to federal court, where government lawyers are now attempting to get the case dismissed.

The lawsuit uses the arrests of five men to allege a broad pattern of police abuse. The five men are among thousands who are routinely arrested and held for hours without being charged with a crime, according to the complaint.

The civil-rights complaint condemns the practice of jailing residents for so-called quality-of-life crimes such as loitering.

But in motions filed late last month, the city criticized the plaintiff's "asserted right to harass others, to urinate in public and to trespass without fear of arrest." That false right, the lawyers wrote, "should not take precedence over the right of City residents to live in City neighborhoods without being subjected to these behaviors."

City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler said that legal consideration of the city's loitering law should first be taken up by the state Court of Appeals, which should consider whether the law is constitutional. Moving the case to federal court was a lawful decision, he added.

"They brought a case that asserts a federal constitutional claim, that asserts that the arrest practices of the city Police Department violate the federal Constitution," Tyler said. "One of the counts in the complaint is a claim that the city loitering ordinance is unconstitutional."

The civil-rights groups have yet not responded to the motion to dismiss the case. A hearing is expected on the issue, said David R. Rocah, an ACLU staff attorney.

"I find it interesting that they don't trust the judges who have the most experience with the arrests in Baltimore City to adjudicate the case," Rocah said.

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