JACKSON, Mississippi — A woman has reached a lawsuit settlement with a south Mississippi city where she says police arrested her for protesting the BP oil spill then arrested her again in retaliation for suing, according to court records.
Sandra Howard sued Long Beach in U.S. District Court in Gulfport on Nov. 18, 2011. The ACLU later filed an amended complaint on her behalf.
Bear Atwood, legal director for the ACLU of Mississippi, said the settlement included money, but the amount is confidential. She said the police department also agreed to expand officer training to include training with a constitutional lawyer at least once a year.
Atwood said Howard really wanted was to make sure "this wouldn't happen to other people so she's very happy" with the provision that officers will get more training.
A city attorney didn't immediately respond to a phone message Wednesday.
The lawsuit said two police officers violated Howard's constitutional rights when she was arrested on June 12, 2010, while protesting near a service station that sells BP gasoline. Howard said she had a permit to protest and was doing so on the public sidewalk when the officers arrived within five minutes and arrested her without cause.
Court records said the store clerk called police.
The lawsuit says Howard spent one night in jail and months fighting a disorderly conduct charge that was eventually remanded to files "for lack of evidence." That meant it wouldn't be prosecuted, but could be later if more evidence is found.
The ACLU of Mississippi filed an amended complaint in October 2012 on Howard's behalf. It named two more police officers as defendants and accused them of arresting Howard again as retaliation for the original lawsuit.
In that complaint, Howard said she arrested on July 25, 2012, for failure to obey an officer after she was pulled over and "they unlawfully ordered her to get out of her car," according to the amended complaint.
Josh Danos, an attorney for the city and the police officers, said last year that the allegations in the second complaint "have no more merit than the ones contained in her original complaint."
Howard says in the complaints that she had never protested anything before but decided she wanted to stand up for the Gulf Coast in the weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010. The explosion caused an oil spill that leaked millions of gallons of oil from a BP well a mile beneath the sea.
Howard picked a service station near the beach in her hometown because she "believes that the symbolism of protesting in front of the BP station, in full view of the white sands of the Gulf Coast, sends a very powerful message," the lawsuit said
Follow Mohr at http://twitter.com/holbrookmohr