Dec. 5 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from two Secret Service agents being sued by a man they arrested after he berated and touched then-Vice President Dick Cheney in a shopping mall.
The justices today said they will decide whether Steven Howards can press his claim that agents violated his free-speech rights by arresting him in retaliation for voicing his opposition to the Iraq war.
The agents, Virgil D. Reichle Jr. and Dan Doyle, say they can’t be sued for retaliatory arrest because they had “probable cause” to apprehend him. They agents say they had reason to believe that Howards violated the law by lying to them about touching Cheney during his 2006 visit to the outdoor mall in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
The Obama administration is backing the agents in the case, saying in court papers that the issue “is of broad significance to law-enforcement officers in general and the Secret Service in particular.”
A Denver-based federal appeals court let Howards’s free- speech claims go forward in March. Other lower courts have said that law enforcement officials are immune from that type of lawsuit if they had probable cause to make an arrest.
Howards was taking his son to a piano recital in the mall when he saw Cheney shaking hands and having his picture taken with the public. According to court documents, agents overheard Howards saying on his mobile phone that he was going to ask Cheney “how many kids he’s killed today” in the Iraq war.
Howards then approached Cheney and told him that his Iraq policies were “disgusting.” After Cheney responded, “Thank you,” Howards touched the vice president’s shoulder with his open hand.
Howards left the area and later returned. Reichle confronted Howards and asked him about the encounter with Cheney. Howards denied touching Cheney, an assertion refuted at the time by Doyle and two other agents. Howards later admitted under oath that he had touched Cheney.
Reichle arrested Howards for assault on the vice president, though prosecutors never pursued charges. Howards was charged with harassment under Colorado law and the case was dropped.
The case is Reichle v. Howards, 11-262.
--Editors: Justin Blum, Bob Drummond.
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