- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The town of Jackson and a local government insurance pool have agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by a Nevada reverend and a national anti-abortion group over his arrest during a 2011 anti-abortion protest.

The settlement of the lawsuit filed by the Rev. Chester E. Gallagher of Las Vegas and the group Operation Save America against Jackson and a former police lieutenant in the town’s police department is a vindication, said lawyer Jack Edwards, who represented the plaintiffs. The settlement was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne.

“It’s a victory for the rule of law because the Bill of Rights serves as a restraint on government, not the people,” he said on Tuesday.

Jackson police arrested Gallagher after town officials secured a state court order barring him and other protesters from appearing on the town square.

The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the lower court order banning anti-abortion protesters from the town square violated protesters’ rights. The protesters weren’t alerted in advance that the town had requested the court order.

The town and other government entities last year paid $225,000 last year to settle an earlier federal lawsuit filed by Mark Holick, a pastor with Spirit One Christian Ministries in Wichita, Kansas, who also was arrested at the 2011 protest. Edwards also had represented Holick.

The protesters had targeted Jackson - displaying photos of aborted fetuses - because a physician there was the only one in the state who had been open about his willingness to perform abortions as part of his medical practice. The anti-abortion protest was staged the same weekend as a traditional Boy Scout auction of elk antlers.

Jackson town attorney Audrey Cohen-Davis declined through her office to comment Tuesday on the most recent settlement. A receptionist said Cohen-Davis referred questions to a lawyer representing the Wyoming Local Government Liability Pool. That lawyer didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Edwards said Tuesday that the settlement in Gallagher’s case was particularly important to him because Gallagher and Edwards’ father, John Edwards, had served as metro police officers together in the 1980s in Las Vegas.

Edwards said the full weight of law enforcement was levied against Gallagher in Jackson to try to bring him into submission.

“But he knew better,” Edwards said of Gallagher. “He knew that what they were doing was not right, and the (court) judgment says that Chet Gallagher was right and the government was wrong.”

The Rev. Rusty Thomas, director of Operation Save America, said Tuesday in his 30 years of protesting to end abortions, he has seen perhaps 10 situations that could have led to legitimate lawsuits against different cities.

“I began to realize that when you don’t hold the system accountable for what they’re doing, you’re setting a precedent that may forfeit other peoples’ freedoms in the future,” Thomas said. “Particularly in this time, when our government is just spinning out of control and each day nibbling away at our liberties and our freedoms, it is important that this case was resolved in the way it came down.”

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