activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Category: lawsuits arising from protests

year-end wrap-up: updates on 2014 posts

NATO 3: On February 7, the jury in the NATO 3 trial acquitted the defendants of all the terrorism charges and the solicitation to commit arson charge. The jury found the defendants guilty of mob action, possession of an incendiary device with the intent to commit arson, and possession of an incendiary device with the knowledge that another intended to commit arson. On April 25, Brian Jacob Church was sentenced to five years, Brent Betterly to six years, and Jared Chase to eight years. Church is now in a halfway house.

Debbie Vincent: Following the conviction of SHAC activist Debbie Vincent in March, she was sentenced to six years in prison in April.

Robert Birgeneau: After Haverford students planned to protest former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who Haverford College invited to speak at commencement, Birgeneau backed out in May. Condoleezza Rice, who Rutgers University invited to speak at commencement, also backed out this year after students and faculty organized a campaign citing her role in the Iraq war. International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde, who Smith College invited to speak at commencement, backed out too after nearly 500 people signed an online petition.

Holly Nguyen and Maya Land: On September 8, Holly Nguyen and Maya Land, the two UC San Diego students who allegedly set fires to prevent a Starbucks from opening on campus, pled guilty to reckless endangerment. They were ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluations and spend 20 days in jail. They will also be on probation for 18 months and have to spend 30 days doing “public service.”

School of the Americas Watch vigil: Although Fort Benning officials and the Columbus police tried to shut down the 25th annual School of the Americas Watch Vigil in November, they backed down following a coordinated grassroots pressure campaign.

Food Not Bombs: After Ft. Lauderdale approved an ordinance outlawing most food sharings in public parks, people protested, tried to meet with city officialswere cited for giving out food, temporarily stopped eating, and crashed Ft. Lauderdale’s website. On December 2, the day after Anonymous crashed the city’s website, a judge in Florida issued a 30-day ban on enforcement of the ordinance.

Procter & Gamble protest: Initially charged with two felonies and facing up to nine and a half years in prison, most of the activists who protested against rainforest destruction at Procter & Gamble headquarters this past spring pled guilty to misdemeanor trespassing on December 12. They were sentenced to complete 80 hours of community service. (One of the activists accepted a previous pleas deal, and another, Tyler Wilkerson, passed away on October 6.)

November 2011 Occupy Cal lawsuit: On December 12, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers dismissed claims against several police officers and one UC Berkeley administrator in a lawsuit regarding excessive force during the November 2011 Occupy Cal protests. Claims against other officers and administrators, including former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, will proceed.

No-Tav: On December 29, the additional charges recently brought against three No-TAV activists currently in custody were dropped. This court decision followed disruption of rail services last week in many parts of Italy after an arson attack, blamed on protesters, on Bologna’s Santa Viola station. Four other activists facing similar charges were recently convicted and sentenced to prison terms of three years and six months each.

Christopher Wahmhoff: After spending approximately 10 hours inside an Enbridge oil pipeline in June 2013, Christopher Wahmhoff was convicted on December 16 of trespassing and resisting police. On December 29, Wahmhoff was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay fines and costs of $908. Restitution has yet to be determined. According to one of the protesters outside the courthouse before Wahmhoff’s sentencing,

When the state convicts people who are protesting for the health of the community, … it’s betraying the community.

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activists file false arrest lawsuit against new york city

On November 1, 2011, 28 people were arrested for demonstrating outside a police station in Brooklyn. Yesterday 17 of them, who had to make numerous court appearances before their criminal charges were dismissed, filed a lawsuit against New York City. According to a New York Daily News article,

Ten minutes into the protest, the suit alleges, NYPD Capt. William Gardner ordered the arrests of 28 people including the plaintiffs on charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing government administration. “Their attempt to squelch plaintiffs’ speech and discourage future dissent is reprehensible,” the lawsuit says.

The activists were protesting the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy. In an important ruling on August 12, 2013, a federal judge found the NYPD liable for a pattern and practice of racial profiling and unconstitutional stop-and-frisks. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard oral argument on the police unions’ appeal on October 15, 2014.

officer reinstated after throwing flash-bang grenade at demonstrators assisting scott olsen

During the October 25, 2011 protest against the eviction of Occupy Oakland, an Oakland police officer shot Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen in the head with a lead-filled bean-bag round, fracturing Olsen’s skull and causing permanent brain damage. Another officer, Rob Roche, then threw a flash-bang grenade at demonstrators who came to assist the bleeding Olsen. Although Roche was fired in August 2013 for this brutality, today an arbitrator ordered Oakland to reinstate him with back pay.

The Alameda County District Attorney never filed criminal charges against Roche or any other Oakland police officer for misconduct during the October 25, 2011 protest. Earlier this year, however, Olsen received a $4.5 million settlement from Oakland. According to a March 26 East Bay Express article,

As for Olsen, he said he’s relieved that his injuries were not worse. After the shooting, he temporarily lost his ability to speak and perform basic motor functions, and while he has improved significantly with therapy, his memory, concentration, and speech are still impaired.

haverford students plan to protest commencement speaker robert birgeneau

For this Sunday’s commencement ceremony, Haverford College invited former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to speak. In California, more than two dozen students and activists sued Birgeneau, among others, after being arrested and beaten by police during an Occupy Cal protest in November 2011. Haverford students, just outside Philadelphia, are now planning to protest Birgeneau in solidarity with the students and activists who were arrested and beaten in the Bay Area.

berkeley copwatch activist files civil rights lawsuit in federal court against city of oakland

At a protest in Oakland on May 1, 2012, after a line of police ordered demonstrators to move, Russell Bates paused to film officers knocking someone down and beating him. One or more officers then hit Bates in the head with a baton and took him to the ground, causing him to lose consciousness. According to yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle article,

Bates was arrested on suspicion of failing to disperse and spent eight hours at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin before he was released, the complaint said. Prosecutors never charged him with a crime. Bates said he suffered a concussion, post-concussion syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Tuesday, Bates filed a lawsuit against the city of Oakland and five police officials related to the incident. Civil rights attorney Rachel Lederman represents Bates in the lawsuit. Bates is a member of Berkeley Copwatch, which coined the term “copwatch” in 1990 and has served as a model for other copwatch groups around the U.S.

texas appeals court rejects brandon darby’s attempt to revive his defamation suit

Austin activist-turned-informant Brandon Darby traveled with a small group of protesters to the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) in St. Paul, Minnesota. A February 23, 2011 New York Times article stated that Darby “had encouraged” a plot to make firebombs and hurl them at police cars during the RNC. (The plot didn’t come to fruition.)

Darby never contacted the New York Times to request a retraction or correction. Instead, he sued the newspaper and the author of the article, James McKinley, for defamation. According to a Nolo post by attorney Emily Doskow,

“Defamation” is a catch-all term for any statement that hurts someone’s reputation. … A defamatory statement must be false — otherwise it’s not considered damaging. … People who aren’t elected but who are still public figures because they are influential or famous … have to prove that defamatory statements were made with actual malice, in most cases.

McKinley said his statement about Darby was based on conversations with Scott Crow and Jeffrey DeGree, the attorney who represented RNC protester David McKay. Crow told McKinley that Darby encouraged McKay and another RNC protester, Bradley Crowder, to take actions beyond peaceful demonstrations during the RNC protests. DeGree also told McKinley that Darby encouraged McKay and Crowder, both of whom pled guilty to federal criminal charges related to Molotov cocktails and were sentenced to years in prison.

Darby’s defamation suit was dismissed. On Wednesday, a Texas appeals court upheld the dismissal, finding that McKinley’s statement was not made with actual malice. On March 16, 2011, the New York Times published a correction regarding the February 23, 2011 article.

judge allows lawsuit against university of california berkeley administrators to proceed

In November 2011, students and activists were arrested and beaten by police during an Occupy Cal protest. More than two dozen of them sued the police and the UC Berkeley administrators who arguably authorized excessive force and false arrests. According to an Oakland Tribune article about the case,

Police were seen hitting protesters with billy clubs and roughing up others who had linked arms to try and prevent the removal of a few tents on Sproul Plaza. … A UC Berkeley police review board and a subsequent report by UC administrators both found fault in the way UC Berkeley administrators and police handled themselves on that day.

Former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, former Police Chief Mitch Celaya, and several other administrators asked U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers to dismiss the claims against them. Last week Judge Rogers allowed all but one of those claims to proceed.

oakland pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle two more lawsuits by protesters

In June, Oakland and Alameda County agreed to pay $1.025 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by 150 protesters who were arrested and detained on November 5, 2010 for demonstrating against the light sentence former BART officer Johannes Mehserle received after fatally shooting Oscar Grant. In July, the Oakland City Council agreed to pay $1.17 million to settle another lawsuit filed by a dozen Occupy Oakland protesters who were subjected to excessive force by police in October and November 2011. Yesterday the Oakland City Council agreed to pay more than $693,000 to settle two additional lawsuits filed by Occupy Oakland protesters, according to a San Francisco Chronicle article:

In the first case, Army veteran Kayvan Sabeghi will receive $645,000 to resolve a lawsuit he filed against the city in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, alleging that he was clubbed by Oakland police during an Occupy protest on Nov. 2, 2011. … Sabeghi underwent surgery for a lacerated spleen. … In a second case, the council agreed to pay $48,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by Robert Ovetz, a college instructor and activist from Marin County who said he was thrown to the ground and struck twice by a police baton during an Occupy protest in Oakland on Jan. 28, 2012.

Video footage of the second incident showed that Ovetz was not resisting when officer Ercivan Martin hit him in the abdomen and back with a baton. Ovetz was jailed for three days for, among other allegations, assaulting an officer. Alameda County prosecutors dismissed the criminal case against him.

activist who revealed psuedonym of undercover officer could face up to six months in jail

Julian Ichim was one of the first people arrested during the June 2010 G20 protests in Toronto, for allegedly masterminding the riots that overtook downtown. The charges against him were dropped fewer than six months later. Yet Ichim was charged again after he violated a “publication ban” by revealing the alias of undercover officer Bindo Showan, who infiltrated activist groups and testified against alleged G20 conspirators.

The maximum punishment for violating a publication ban is six months in jail. But the Crown charged Ichim with violating a court order, a violation carrying a maximum punishment of two years. Yesterday Ontario Superior Court Justice Michael Quigley ruled that the Crown could only charge Ichim with the lesser offense carrying the potential six month sentence.

As a person affiliated with the G20 protests, Ichim contended that he was being prosecuted for political reasons. He is currently suing law enforcement related to infiltration, excessive force, and jail conditions surrounding the G20. According to yesterday’s Toronto Star article,

Ichim is … pursuing a $4-million lawsuit against the undercover officer, the province and the Toronto police force. He alleges that Showan, who he once considered a good friend, crossed a legal line by encouraging criminal acts and driving drunk ahead of the G20 summit. The notice of claim also alleges Ichim was beaten by Toronto police and underwent “cruel and unusual treatment” in the G20 temporary jail.

judge allows lawsuit against university of california berkeley chief of police to proceed

In the fall of 2009, protests erupted on the UC Berkeley campus related to state budget cuts. Three of the protests occurred at Wheeler Hall, one of the largest classroom buildings on campus. The first of the three protests was on September 24, 2009, when a group of protesters briefly occupied the building after a rally and march.

The second protest at Wheeler Hall was on November 20, 2009, when a group occupied and barricaded the building. Approximately 2,000 people gathered outside. Confrontations with police ensued, resulting in injuries and at least 40 arrests.

The third protest at Wheeler Hall was on a Monday, December 7, 2009, when a group of protesters occupied the building and announced that they intended to occupy it for the entire week. The next day, a UC police officer told one of the protesters that the University was prepared to informally allow the occupation as long as the protesters exited the building before final exams that Saturday morning. Yet when Wheeler Hall closed every evening, UC officers continued to tell protesters that if they remained in the building, they were subject to University disciplinary proceedings and criminal charges.

The protesters scheduled a hip-hop show inside Wheeler Hall, featuring Boots Riley of the Coup, for the Friday night before final exams. A flyer said the party would last “until the cops kick in the doors.” University officials asked the protesters to change their plans, but the protesters declined.

At approximately 4:35 a.m. that Friday, UC officers entered Wheeler Hall and arrested 65 people. Roughly 12 of the arrestees, who had previously been arrested in the past month for occupying campus buildings, were taken directly to jail. Although the officers planned to cite and release the remaining arrestees inside Wheeler Hall, most of them were also taken to jail, where they were cited and released. (Full disclosure: I represented one of the arrestees after he re-entered the campus with a protest sign two days later, despite having received a notice of exclusion ordering him to stay away. The prosecutor dismissed the case.)

The arrested protesters sued, arguing that the University never informed them that they no longer had permission to remain in Wheeler Hall. Last week U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler disagreed, but she allowed the case to proceed on another issue the protesters raised: whether sending them to jail instead of citing and releasing them inside Wheeler Hall was in retaliation for, or to chill, their exercise of First Amendment rights. Judge Beeler emphasized that in response to activists’ plans for a noon rally at Cal Hall regarding the arrests, the UC Berkeley Chief of Police said the following in an email to the campus crisis management team:

The good news is that the arrested protestors are still at Santa Rita getting booked so they won’t be able to participate in the rally.

Officers can’t book people in retaliation for First Amendment activity. Judge Beeler’s decision means the case will continue moving toward trial.