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article imageThreats Or Freedom Of Speech?

By Carolyn E. Price     Apr 19, 2007 in Crime
The City of Des Plaines is trying to fire a police officer for allegedly verbally and physically abusing pro-life women protestors outside an abortion clinic last year.
A woman who was protesting outside a health clinic in Des Plaines called a 911 operator and told them that she was "in fear for my health and life” because of an off-duty police officer wearing a black T-shirt, blue sweatpants and gym shoes".
The dispatcher Cate Loughrige then asked "You're in fear for your life?"
The protester then said: "Ma'am, if you do not do this, I will sue Des Plaines. Please send someone out here. He is hollering at us."
Tapes of the 911 calls from protesters were played during the opening of the city's case in its attempt to fire police officer Dick V. Lalowski, age 43. He stands accused of verbally and physically abusing women on May 20, 2006, outside a clinic in Des Plaines.
Lalowski was suspended last fall when the city filed charges against him. He has been suspended without pay and is denying that he has done anything wrong. His lawyer, Richard J. Reimer, says that the officer was in plain clothes and that he was just exercising his right to free speech guaranteed under the First Amendment.
Lalowski is accused of spending more than an hour threatening to arrest the female protesters, calling them "fat (expletive) cows", poking his index finger into the torso of one of them and hugging another.
City officials are contending that the officer compared the what the women were doing outside the clinic to the "Taliban". He also is accused of threatening to arrest the women if they blocked the clinic's entrance or gave people going inside baskets with teddy bears with the message, "I love you, mommy", the city says.
The city's attorney, Patrick Lucansky, is saying that the officer should lose his job for disorderly conduct both while in uniform, when he stopped at the protest, and later when he returned in plain clothes after his shift ended.
Lalowski testified last week that he never used any profanity toward the women but he did admit that he called a protester a "fat cow" and then demonstrated some low-impact exercises that she could do.
"I believe I acted courteous and professional the whole time," Lalowski said.
Lalowski admitted that he was upset by a 6-foot-tall picture of an aborted fetus the protesters were holding up and he said it looked like "Jell-O".” He also admitted to accusing a protester of gluttony because she was overweight. He says that he said it just to show her that the "truth sometimes hurts" just like like the aborted fetus photo might hurt a woman who had just had a miscarriage. Lalowski said he did tell the women they would be arrested if they stopped people from entering the clinic.
A second police officer, Matthew Jones, also was at the demonstration last May 20 to keep the peace during the time Lalowski is accused of abusing the women.
While the 911 call was being taped, Officer Jones is heard downplaying the what the women were saying happened. During the calls, the protesters accuse the officer of working for the clinic instead of working to protect them.
"They're down here peacefully demonstrating and yes, a gentleman (Lalowski) came up and was talking to them. He was expressing his views and they were expressing theirs. Nobody got in anybody's face. Nobody was threatened, nobody was assaulted", Jones tells the dispatcher.
Jones also told the dispatcher that the women were "not used to getting somebody else talking back to them".”
Testimony will continue Monday, when the anti-abortion protesters are expected to testify before the city's board of fire and police commissioners. The hearings involving Lalowski are expected to continue into May.
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