The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland filed a lawsuit challenging the practice as an unconstitutional violation of free speech and illegal under Maryland's public transparency through "gag orders" that silence victims of police abuse as a condition of resolving their cases.

In 2012, Ashley Overbey, then a 25-year-old Black woman, called the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) for help, reporting a burglary at her apartment. Three sets of police officers were dispatched to her apartment at various times. The crime lab unit radioed for police officers to return and one of them, Officer Fred Hannah, forcefully entered and began searching her apartment without her permission. When Ms. Overbey asked him to explain he became violent and aggressive. Another officer, Martin Richardson, came soon after and together they beat, tackled, choked, Tased and handcuffed Ms. Overbey, who was transported to the hospital, then jailed for 24 hours, and charged with six counts of assault and one count of resisting arrest.

All charges against Ms. Overbey were dropped and she successfully sued the Baltimore Police Department for wrongful arrest and unwarranted physical abuse. But as a condition of settling the case, the city and police department required Ms. Overbey to agree to a gag order that silenced her from talking publicly about her experience. Ms. Overbey was victimized again by the police misconduct when half of her settlement was taken away just because she defended herself in comments on a blog where members of the public disparaged her personal character for suing the police and accepting a settlement, without any understanding of the level of excessive and illegal force used by the police. The Baltimore Police Department is punishing her by withholding half of her settlement amount for exercising her right to free speech. 

Attorney(s)

ACLU of Maryland, Crowell and Moring LLP

Date filed

June 30, 2017

Court

United States District Court for the District of Maryland

Judge

The Honorable Marvin J. Garbis, Senior U.S. District Judge

Status

Pending

Case number

Case 1:17-cv-01793-JFM

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