INDIANAPOLIS (WTWO/WAWV) – The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on Tuesday filed a lawsuit claiming Indiana State Police interfered with death penalty protests last month at the federal prison in Terre Haute.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Death Penalty Action, Indiana Abolition Coalition, Providence of Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods Indiana and individuals who protested and stood vigil in opposition to the July executions.
According to the ACLU, protesters planned to hold vigils at the time of the executions immediately outside the gates of the federal prison; however, prior to the executions, ISP erected barricades and closed the roads leading to the prison, “forcing protesters to stay almost two miles from the entrance of the prison.”
The lawsuit claims these restrictions violate the protesters’ First Amendment rights.
“These restrictions obstruct one of the most fundamental rights protected by the Constitution, political speech,” Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana, said. “There is absolutely no justification for this overly broad ‘no-protest zone.’ The Indiana State Police are severely compromising protesters’ ability to express themselves and to express their opposition to the death penalty while in sight of the prison.”
The only other option for protesters to get close to the facility, was to be bussed into a fenced-in area on prison grounds.
“Many, if not all, Sisters of Providence right now are practicing extreme social distancing, very careful interactions with others. None of us want to get on a bus or feel that it’s safe,” said Sister Barbara Battista, Sisters of Providence.
The area would have been far removed from the death chamber and would have required protesters to stay for an unknown amount of time, with little shelter in extreme heat, until the execution occurred.
“We want to have the freedom to come and go, and be able to get into our car or drive to an air conditioned spot cool off and come back,” Battista said.
The lawsuit requests that the U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana enter a preliminary injunction allowing the organizations and individual plaintiffs to engage in protests immediately outside of the main entrance of Terre Haute Prison.
“The Indiana Abolition Coalition seeks to end the death penalty in Indiana and beyond,” Stephanie Quiring at Indiana Abolition Coalition said. “IAC members have long stood in protest and vigil at execution sites. The US federal government’s decision to resume executions in July, and carry out three over the course of only five days, is abhorrent. Through this lawsuit, IAC joins with other members of our Indiana communities to protect our right to bear witness to these executions and bring attention to the government’s actions behind prison walls.”
Indiana State Police declined to comment on the matter.
“It is the policy of the Indiana State Police to refrain from speaking about nay pending litigation,” ISP PIO Sgt. Matt Ames said.