WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear the appeal of two Harford County adult book stores that are trying to sue county officials over raids on the businesses.
The court’s refusal lets stand lower court rulings that Harford prosecutors and deputies cannot be sued for their parts in the raids.
The petition to the Supreme Court is the latest round in a decade of litigation surrounding police raids on the two Edgewood book stores, both of which have since closed.
Harford County deputies raided Edgewood Books and U.S. Books in June 1989 and seized about 1,900 items, including adult videos, magazines and novels.
Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly and Deputy Sheriff J.R. Taylor began planning the raid after “citizen complaints,” according to Assistant Attorney General Jefferson Blomquist.
Court records say that Cassilly and Taylor consulted with Baltimore County officials, who had recently staged successful raids of adult book stores in their jurisdiction. On the advice of Baltimore County officials, Taylor went into the Edgewood book stores and bought two magazines at each. The titles included Transvestite and She-Male Superstar magazines, among others.
Based on the magazines’ content and on Taylor’s own observations in the stores, he and Cassilly obtained a search warrant, citing violations of a Maryland law regarding the display of adult materials.
The book stores sued Taylor and Cassilly, among others, over the raid. But the civil suit was put on hold by the courts while the criminal case against the book stores was pending.
Larry Hicks, the corporate trustee for the two stores at the time of the raids, was convicted of illegal display of adult materials. But that conviction was overturned in 1994 by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which said that there was not sufficient evidence that Hicks was the owner of the stores.
After the criminal conviction was overturned, the civil suit against the Harford County officials was allowed to proceed.
But a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the officials were immune from civil prosecution, since they were acting in their official capacities as law enforcement officers in the raid. The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond upheld that ruling in August.
“We have the right to seize suspected obscene materials” and the 4th Circuit agreed, said Assistant Attorney General Andrew Beta, who is representing Cassilly and Harford Assistant State’s Attorney M. Teresa Garland.
Blomquist, who represents Taylor, said the deputy “did what you would want any conscientious police officer to do … what the Fourth Amendment requires” in a search.
But William Seekford, the attorney for the book stores, said he plans to press on even though Hicks, his original client, died last year.
Seekford said he wants to challenge other aspects of the Harford case, which he said makes it “OK for police officers and state’s attorneys to get a search warrant and seize” materials illegally.
“I could be whiskered,” before the case is finally over, he said.