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police abuse case sparks uproar over equal protection

police abuse case sparks uproar over equal protection

Lawyers for a Chicago man who says police officers who arrested him beat him because he is gay filed an amended complaint in U.S. district court on September 7 to ensure equal protection for their client regardless of his sexual orientation.

They removed a claim in their case that was based on the equal protection statute in the U.S. Code but referenced the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"There is more federal case law that supports the new claim," attorney Michael Oppenheimer said in a statement regarding the case of his client, Alexander Ruppert. "Our objective is to represent our client, not make new constitutional law. We did not want to burden the lawyers who are working every day to ensure the equal protection rights of the GLBT community with an adverse ruling--which might have happened had we continued to pursue the original claim."

Ruppert was arrested at the Uptown Lounge in Chicago in March 2006. In the police car, Ruppert claims, he attempted to use his cell phone but that the officers pulled over, dragged him out of the car, used antigay epithets, and beat him bloody, until he told them he was HIV-positive. The officers then called for an ambulance, which took him to a local hospital.

Last week the Chicago Free Press reported that the city's attorneys argued that the equal protection clause did not specifically cover LGBT citizens, thereby making a motion to throw the case out. Since then, the city has spoken out, clarifying the report.

"Statements by the attorney for Mr. Ruppert are misleading. This attorney brought the suit under both sections 1981 and 1983 [of U.S. Code Title 42]," reads a statement from the city's LGBT community liaison, William Greaves. "The city is only moving to dismiss the 1981 claim because the U.S. Supreme Court holds that section is only available for actions based on ethnicity and ancestry. The city is not trying to dismiss the 1983 claim, which allows the attorney to proceed on the basis of sexual orientation."

Greaves told The Advocate Friday that the city has been nothing but supportive of LGBT rights, especially since Mayor Richard M. Daley took office.

He called the city a "progressive bubble" in the Midwest and said it has one of the most vibrant LGBT communities in the country. Some of Chicago's efforts include a gender-identity nondiscrimination ordinance, bereavement leave, domestic-partnership benefits for city employees, and support for the Center on Halsted, a new LGBT resource.

He declined to speak about the pending case's details.

Oppenheimer and Jon Erickson, who are representing Ruppert, asked for and received an extension to argue against the city's motion to dismiss the equal protection complaint. The case will resume September 11. (Michelle Garcia, The Advocate)

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