WASHINGTON (CN) – A woman who walked 225 miles to the White House to protest sex discrimination in law enforcement claims that when she arrived, Secret Service officers harassed and threatened her because she wore a shirt that stated: “Walking to the White House.”
Debra Hartley sued Secret Service Officers Wolfert and Jane Doe, in Federal Court.
According to the complaint: “The officers told her the law required them to demand from her, as a ‘protester,’ a battery of personal details about herself and those accompanying her that they promised would remain forever in a Secret Service registry. She could avoid this invasive inquiry, they said, if she left the White House sidewalk, thus offering her a dismal choice, either registering to be listed among a group the officer called ‘crazies’ or abandoning her First Amendment rights.”
Hartley walked to the White House from her hometown of Effort, Pa., in the Poconos, to raise awareness about unequal opportunity for women in law enforcement. Hartley, a former police officer, says she’s personally experienced disparate treatment as an officer.
During the walk, she tried to contact the governor of Pennsylvania and First Lady Michelle Obama, to no avail, she says in the complaint.
After weeks of walking, she arrived at the White House wearing her vest that said, “Walking to the White House” and “225 miles from the Pocono Mountains.” But she was greeted by the Secret Service instead of the First Lady.
“Officer Wolfert told Ms. Hartley, ‘right now you are someone with an actual billboard, you’re somebody with a sign’ and therefore ‘we would have to do the whole procedure with you.’ Though he said ‘if you want to protest you can,’ Officer Wolfert added ominously ‘but we have rules’ and ‘we’re gonna have to call it in as a protest,'” Hartley says in her complaint.
Hartley says Wolfert told her that she, her companion and her daughter would have to give the Secret Service their name, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and submit to questions, and that the Secret Service keeps records on protesters.
“He told Ms. Hartley that she would probably choose to leave rather than be added to the Secret Service list and be ‘considered one of the crazies who protest in front of the White House,'” according to the complaint.
Though she was disheartened, Hartley says she didn’t want to make any trouble, so she left. But she says she later discovered that there “is no law or regulation requiring plaintiff to have a permit to stand on the White House sidewalk wearing a vest with a message.”
The complaint states: “Officer Wolfert (echoed by Officer Doe) provided completely false information to Ms. Hartley and her companions. No reasonable officer could have believed that there was lawful basis for telling Ms. Hartley that she and her companions had to provide their names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers, fill out a card, answer various addition questions, and obtain a permit as conditions for standing on the White House sidewalk wearing a vest with a message.”
She says Wolfert later acknowledged that he had misled her and should have used better judgment.
Hartley says the incident embarrassed and humiliated her and caused her to suffer “emotional distress at the prospect of being classified as ‘one of the crazies’ for her conduct.”
She seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and a declaration that the officers violated her First Amendment rights.
She is represented by Arthur Spitzer, with the ACLU.