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Group sues officer they say tried to stop petition drive

Associated Press

A group petitioning to ban gay marriage filed a lawsuit Thursday against Broward County and a Sunrise police officer claiming the sergeant violated volunteers' civil rights during a petition drive.

Members of Florida Family Policy Council were harassed by Sgt. Stephen Allen while they circulated a petition outside a conference at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise in June 2006, according to the complaint.

"I felt more like we were in a junior high school gym (rather) than dealing with professional law enforcement officers," John Stemberger, the organization's president and general counsel, said of the encounter.

Stemberger said Allen mocked the volunteers and told them to remove their petitions from the booth they had paid for. Allen told the group that petitioning was not allowed at the BankAtlantic Center.

Andrew Meyers, Broward County's chief appellate counsel, said he could not comment on the allegations until they were served with the lawsuit.

"Once we receive the lawsuit we will review it and file an appropriate response," Meyers said.

A telephone number for Allen was not listed. The Sunrise Police Department, which is not named in the complaint, did not return messages Thursday afternoon.

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