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ACLU of Utah Asks Davis County to Address Searches of Legal Observers

03 April 2002 Published in Legal Advocacy

ACLU of Utah Asks Davis County to Address Searches of Legal Observers.

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ACLU Sends Letter to Davis County Sheriff’s Office Questioning Search of Legal Observers

April 3, 2002

Sheriff Bud Cox
Davis County Sheriff
800 West State Street
Farmington, Utah 84025

Dear Sheriff Cox,

I am writing because of our concerns in regard to searches of ACLU observers that deputies from your office conducted at the Davis County Fairgrounds during the Olympics.

On Saturday evening, February 9, 2002, representatives from ACLU of Utah were present at the Davis County Fairgrounds in order to act as neutral observers of Olympics protests and to document the conduct of the protestors and of law enforcement. 

On that evening, around 80 animal rights protestors were at the Fairgrounds in order to protest against the Olympic Rodeo. Deputies from the Davis County Sheriff’s office conducted pat down searches of the protestors as a condition of allowing them to protest. A lawsuit was filed alleging that these searches of protestors violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. A court order was entered prohibiting these searches from continuing on the last night of the rodeo. That lawsuit remains pending.

Your office was notified in advance that ACLU observers would be present at Olympic protests and what their purpose was. Despite this, Davis County Deputy Sheriffs frisked all ACLU observers present on February 9.  Members of the news media were also frisked.

Those who attended the rodeo did not have to undergo frisks. Instead, they passed through metal detectors, a less intrusive form of search, as they entered the arena. No rodeo patrons were searched before entering the rodeo arena. Instead, they were allowed to enter the arena parking area, driving within feet of the protestors, observers and news media, without any search whatsoever. The treatment by your office of the two groups – patrons vs. protestors, observers, and media – was unequal in scope and nature. The difference in the searches shows an assumption by your office that protestors, observers, and news media were somehow dangerous while rodeo ticket holders posed no threat.

Members of the public simply cannot be subjected to indiscriminate searches by law enforcement officers as a condition of exercising their First Amendment rights. Protestors, legal observers, and news media were all attempting to exercise their First Amendment rights to protest, to observe, and to report on protests. Searches such as those conducted by your deputies unconstitutionally discourage these important First Amendment-protected activities.

Individuals who were improperly searched may have their own legal claims. The ACLU is additionally very concerned about the way our observers were treated by deputies of the Davis County Sheriff’s office. 

I write to request immediate assurances from your Department and from Davis County that incidents similar to those of February 9, 2002 will not occur in the future.

Sincerely,

Janelle P. Eurick
Staff Attorney

Cc: Mel Wilson
Davis County Attorney
800 West State Street
P.O. Box 618
Farmington, Utah 84025