(12/20/2002)
The West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has dropped a free speech lawsuit against Mildred-Mitchell Bateman Hospital in Huntington.

The decision follows a federal judge's approval of an agreement redefining a policy to allow employees to talk to the media.

West Virginia A-C-L-U Executive Director Andrew Schneider says that with the agreement, which he calls a victory for all West Virginians, there is no longer reason to litigate.

The workers said they weren't allowed to discuss their opinions or report controversial incidents to reporters, or anyone outside the Department of Health and Human Resources, without first consulting a hospital administrator.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the State Police yesterday for establishing a drug checkpoint last year near a rally organized by marijuana-law reform advocates.

ACLU attorneys Allan Karlin and Jason Huber filed the lawsuit on behalf of Thomas Thacker and Brett Gasper. The men said police violated their constitutional rights in July 2001 when they stopped and searched them for drugs on the way to a Barbour County event held by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Police violated Thacker and Gasper's rights to assemble and to due process of law when they used specially trained dogs to search them without their consent and without lawful justification on their way to the political rally, according to the lawsuit.

"I was asked if my car could be searched, and when I said no, the drug dogs were brought on the scene to pressure me to waive my constitutional rights," Gasper said in an ACLU media release. "I don't like drugs, and I especially don't like big German shepherds in my face, or dirty looks from policemen or insinuating remarks from the same."

Gasper said officers went beyond a any legal rights during the stop, besides being treated like a criminal.

The officers ran the checkpoint in a manner that singled out and discriminated against those attending the meeting, according to the lawsuit.

"Members of law enforcement shouldn't't have to violate the law to enforce the law," said state ACLU Director Andrew Schneider.

Neither Thacker nor Gasper was charged as a result of the search, nor were any drugs found.

The lawsuit says that drug roadblocks are set up to investigate criminal activity and therefore require individualized suspicion.

Thacker and Gasper are seeking compensation and punitive damages and an injunction that would forbid State Police or the sheriff's department from establishing such checkpoints.

"The First Amendment is based upon the belief that, in a free and democratic society, the public has a right to know how its institutions are being conducted, and our plaintiffs have a right to tell the public what it has a right to know," Schneider said in a media release.information.

The ACLU is being asked to investigate the violation of free speech rights by State Police in Calhoun and other regional counties, where officers demanded a reporter to not photograph open view car accidents or be present at scenes where State Police were present, threatening arrest.


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