The settlement comes after more than five years of federal litigation stemming from harassment of pro-life individuals and other federal civil rights violations on the part of some members of the Rockford Police Department.
As part of the terms of the settlement, Rockford police officers will be required to attend a training program on citizens’ First Amendment rights, with the specific aim of preventing wrongful arrest of citizens for taking part in constitutionally-protected activities.
The settlement also requires the City of Rockford to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees and provide “modest compensation” for damages incurred when an bus bench advertisement paid for by the Rockford Pro-Life Initiative was defaced, prompting the City to ban any future advertisements by the group.
Additionally, a ridiculous complaint against veteran Rockford pro-life activist Kevin Rilott for “jaywalking” outside the infamous Northern Illinois Women’s Center abortion facility (which permanently closed in January 2012) was dismissed.
Rilott explained why he and other members of the Pro-Life Initiative brought the lawsuit:
In the past the city of Rockford had refused on numerous occasions to protect pro-life demonstrators against threats as well as actual assaults and batteries by lawless persons hostile to the pro-life view. We brought our lawsuit against the Rockford to compel our own city’s law enforcement officials to protect pro-lifers as well as other citizens from against such public and private harms.
Indeed, pro-lifers in Rockford have seen more than their share of violence.
Last year alone, a school bus with pro-life messages was firebombed, and during the Pro-Life Action League’s “Face the Truth” Day last summer, Rilott himself was physically assaulted. Despite the fact that the attack was caught on video and the license plate number of the attacker was provided to police, no action was taken.
Rockford Settlement an Example for Pro-Life Activists Everywhere
Pro-life activists everywhere would do well to look at the example of the members of the Rockford Pro-Life Initiative in reaching this settlement with the City of Rockford. Over the course of many years, Rockford pro-lifers extensively documented—via photos, videos, and written accounts—the numerous incidents in which their civil rights were violated or in which they were otherwise mistreated.
This extensive documentation was absolutely essential in making their case. Without it, surely no settlement would have ever come to pass.
Take heed, pro-life activists: Document everything.
And although it may go without saying, pro-lifers in Rockford also would not have reached a settlement with the city had they not actively sought out first-rate legal counsel.
“You can’t fight City Hall,” so goes the old saying—which is, unfortunately, often true if you don’t have a good attorney in your corner. And that’s precisely why you need one.
If you’ve had your civil rights violated or otherwise been mistreated by police in the course of pro-life activism, do what the members of the Rockford Pro-Life Initiative did and contact the Thomas More Society.