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Secret Service agents must tell White House protester they're sorry

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania woman who protested at the White House will get an apology and a family trip to Washington from the U.S. Secret Service to settle a lawsuit that accused the officers of effectively turning her away.

Under the settlement approved by a judge on Thursday, two Secret Service officers agreed to write letters of apology to the woman, former police officer Debra Hartley.

The Secret Service agreed to provide Hartley, her lawyer, her daughter and two grandchildren a 45-minute meeting with its director, according to the U.S. District Court settlement.

The agency also will reimburse Hartley for mileage from her home to Washington, pay for two hotel rooms for one night, including parking, and provide a government-rate per diem for up to three days. The settlement did not specify the cost.

Hartley complained the officers kept her from exercising her right to free speech, and the settlement also requires both the officers and Secret Service lawyers to attend an hour-long legal workshop with the American Civil Liberties Union.

A resident of Effort, Pennsylvania, Hartley walked 225 miles in protest at pay inequality for women in law enforcement, her complaint said.

When she arrived at her destination on July 20, 2009, wearing a vest with the words, "Walking to the White House," the two Secret Service officers told her she could either leave or register as a protester with the Secret Service.

One of them "told Ms. Hartley that she would probably choose to leave rather than be added to the Secret Service list and be 'considered one of the crazies who protest in front of the White House', read Hartley's complaint, filed in July 2012.

There is no law requiring a permit to stand on the White House sidewalk wearing a vest with a message or to give personal information to the Secret Service, the complaint said.

The settlement came as the Secret Service suffered another scandal. Three of its agents were sent home from Amsterdam this week after a night of drinking on the eve of President Barack Obama's Europe trip, the Washington Post reported. A scandal on another presidential trip, in 2012, involved prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Howard Goller and James Dalgleish)

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