Police Officer Wins Lawsuit Against ACLU
An Orange County jury has decided that the American Civil Liberties Union had violated the rights of a Newport Beach police officer by ejecting him from a 1980 ACLU meeting on police spying.
In awarding $20,000 in damages to Sgt. Richard T. Long, the jury verdict Wednesday represented the first time that the renowned defender of American freedoms had been found to have violated the rights of others.
The case also was a footnote to disclosures of improper Los Angeles Police Department spying on citizens and organizations early in this decade. That scandal led to reorganization of police surveillance operations.
“We’re extremely happy that a majority of jurors felt that what had happened to Richard Long was wrong,” said Jeffrey M. Epstein, the police officer’s lawyer.
Lawyers for the ACLU expressed confidence that the verdict would be overturned on appeal.
In 1980, Long attended a daylong public seminar sponsored by the ACLU at Newport Harbor High School. Then a community relations officer, Long was not in uniform. He had been told by a superior to attend and was paid overtime.
Long said that when seminar participants Rees Lloyd and Linda Valentino realized that he was a police officer, they publicly humiliated him and ejected him from the meeting.
Valentino, with the American Friends Police Surveillance Program, and Lloyd, then a staff attorney for the ACLU Foundation, had helped expose police spying in Los Angeles involving the now-disbanded Public Disorder Intelligence Division.
The jurors assessed damages at $10,000 against Lloyd, $9,000 against the ACLU and $1,000 against Valentino. But any damages remaining after appeal would be paid by the ACLU of Southern California, according to Meir J. Westreich, staff attorney for the Southern California chapter and co-counsel during the three-week trial.
Jury foreman Eve Jackson said jurors believed that the ACLU had advertised and staged a public meeting and therefore could not fairly exclude law enforcement personnel without advance notice.
The ACLU argued that the questioning of Long was merely a matter of protecting free speech and rights of free association.
The lawsuit was almost settled last year when the ACLU offered to provide $1,000 to sponsor a high school essay-writing contest, but Long rejected the offer because he thought the topic could be manipulated to make the contest appear to be oriented against law enforcement in general.
Long, who attended the lengthy trial, was away with his family on a camping trip and could not be reached for comment on the verdict.