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U.S. top court to settle dispute over arrests at racy D.C. party

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to weigh in on whether police in the District of Columbia violated the constitutional rights of people attending a party in a vacant house featuring scantily clad women with money tucked in their garter belts.

The partygoers were arrested in 2008 for trespassing but not charged. They did not know that the owner of the property had not given permission for the party, according to lawyers representing 16 of the 21 people arrested. As such, police did not have reason to arrest them, the lawyers contend.

The group sued the city and the officers for violating their rights to be free of unreasonable search and seizure under the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment. They won almost $1 million after a federal judge in Washington ruled in 2012 that their rights were violated.

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In a 2014 ruling, a divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the damage award. The city and officers appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

Officers with Washington's Metropolitan Police Department went to the house late at night on March 16, 2008, following a complaint from a neighbor. Officers testified that they saw scenes reminiscent of a strip club.

The partygoers gave differing reasons for the event, with some saying it was to celebrate a birthday and others saying it was a bachelor party. Police could not identify a guest of honor or get in contact with a woman named only as Peaches who was said to be the host.

Peaches spoke to police by telephone but refused to identify herself, fearing arrest. Before making the arrests, the police officers determined that the homeowner had not given permission for the party.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

 
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