CHP Pays Topless Peace Protesters $150K to Settle Civil Rights Lawsuit

November 2008 -- In a victory for freedom of speech and peace protesters, “Breasts Not Bombs” activists have favorably settled their civil rights claims with the California Attorney General’s Office over their wrongful arrest while participating in a peace protest in November 2005 on the Capitol lawn in Sacramento.

The settlement includes a $150,000 payment to plaintiffs and requires that California Highway Patrol provide training in First Amendment rights to all new and current peace officers of its Capitol Protection Section (CPS). Also, CHP must also maintain compliance records of these training requirements for a period of five years.

“It was important for my clients and for me that any settlement reached will include training measures so that peace activists are not harassed in the future in the course of Constitutionally protected protests,” said Matthew Kumin, lead attorney for plaintiffs Sheba Love and Sherry Glaser.

Background: The Peace Protests and Arrests

The anti-war protesters, men and women, had gathered on November 8, 2005, on the eve of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's special election. Breast Not Bombs co-founders, Sheba Love and Sherry Glaser, in a definitive political act, removed their shirts and were completely topless at the protest. Officers of the California Highway Patrol immediately arrested the women for indecent exposure and for committing a lewd act in a public place. If convicted, the women would have faced registering as sex offenders. Many of the protesters, including Love and Glaser, carried banners and signs expressing the difference between the natural decency of a woman's naked breasts, representing peace and the survival of the human race on one hand, and war, on the other. Their act and its attendant life-giving message was designed to sharply contrast with the obscenity and violence of war, torture, invasion of privacy and other issues that protesters found were “indecent” on the pending ballot that year.

Breast Not Bombs activists had previously staged bare-breasted peace demonstrations in other cities including San Francisco and Washington D.C in front of the White House and had never been arrested. In fact, male members of the group were allowed to remove their shirts with no consequences as were other women who were told that if they had their aureoles covered they would not risk arrest. Glaser and Love were booked and detained at Sacramento County jail overnight and released the next day. The charges were then dismissed by the County district attorney.

In the litigation, the CHP unsuccessfully argued before a state court judge that if female activists removed their tops completely it would disrupt business, offend children having lunch nearby as well as stimulate sex offenders recently released from custody who apparently frequent the Capitol grounds. The judge ruled in the plaintiffs favor on their motion for summary judgment and the case settled before a jury trial set for November 3, 2008 to determine the amount of damages the CHP was to pay

Case Information

The lawsuit is captioned Sheba Love (aka Renee Love) and Sherry Glaser v. California Highway Patrol Commissioner Mike Brown, et al., filed in Sacramento County Superior Court as Civil Case No. 06AS04799. Judge Loren McMaster issued a summary judgment ruling on August 28, 2008. Attorneys for plaintiffs are Matthew Kumin and Amanda Bruss of Kumin Sommers LLP (San Francisco), and Michael Chastaine of The Chastaine Law Office (Folsom).