activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Category: lawsuits on activists’ behalf

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.

activist who discovered the father of her son was an undercover officer settles legal claim

Bob Lambert, an undercover officer, posed as an animal rights activist in the 1980s. Green Party politician Caroline Lucas has named Lambert, who infiltrated the ALF, as the undercover officer who allegedly planted a bomb at a department store in 1987. Like several other undercover officers in the UK between the mid-1980s and 2010, he apparently deceived women into developing long-term sexual relationships with him.

Though he was already married with two children, Lambert fathered a child with one of the women before disappearing in 1989. The woman didn’t discover he was an undercover officer until 2012. She is one of at least 12 women who sued for the trauma they suffered after having intimate relationships with undercover officers.

Her case was the first to settle. According to yesterday’s Guardian article,

The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous and is known by the name Jacqui, said the out-of-court settlement in which the Met would pay her £425,000 would not bring closure for her as the force had not admitted wrongdoing.

Police chiefs have maintained that the undercover officers were not permitted to have sexual relationships with the people on whom they were spying. Yet such relationships were routine, often lasting several years.

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.

settlement reached in lawsuit seeking to stop warrantless searches of arrestees’ cell phones

In March 2013, activist Bob Offer-Westort sued San Francisco to stop warrantless searches of arrestees’ cell phones. The parties put the case on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 25, 2014, in which the court held that searching an arrestee’s cell phone generally requires a warrant. Yesterday Offer-Westort dismissed his case in exchange for the San Francisco Police Department’s agreement to stop conducting warrantless searches of arrestees’ cell phones.

Even after the Supreme Court ruling, however, law enforcement agencies can still demand that cellphone carriers provide subscriber information, including text messages and caller locations. In 2012, cellphone carriers reported that they responded to 1.3 million such demands from law enforcement agencies in 2011. They turned over records thousands of times per day in response to police emergencies, court orders, law enforcement subpoenas, and other requests. According to a New York Times article dated July 9, 2012:

Under federal law, the carriers said they generally required a search warrant, a court order or a formal subpoena to release information about a subscriber. But in cases that law enforcement officials deem an emergency, a less formal request is often enough.

richard o’barry sues japanese aquarium that has a baby albino dolphin in captivity

In the 1960s, Richard O’Barry captured and trained dolphins to perform tricks. In 1970, on the first Earth Day, O’Barry launched the Dolphin Project, a campaign against the dolphin captivity industry. Over the past 40 years, O’Barry has rescued and released more than 25 captive dolphins.

O’Barry is also a leading voice in the fight to end dolphin hunts. He’s one of the activists featured in the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, which follows a covert mission to expose the annual dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan. According to an article posted this morning, O’Barry is now suing an aquarium in Taiji for denying him entry:

The lawsuit filed by former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry says the Taiji Whale Museum refuses entry to Western-looking people who want to check on a baby albino dolphin it has in captivity. … Katsuki Hayashi, who heads the aquarium, says it routinely denies entry to non-Japanese activists, such as members of Sea Shepherd, who come annually to protest the town’s dolphin hunts.

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.

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.

release of russell maroon shoatz from solitary confinement delayed

Russell Maroon Shoatz, who has been locked in solitary confinement for 28 of the past 30 years, filed a lawsuit in May demanding an end to the torturous conditions of his confinement. Studies have shown that prisoners placed in extreme isolation can suffer profound psychological and physiological harm. According to a letter to the editor published by the New York Times on July 18,

If you have any doubts about the effectiveness of solitary confinement, lock yourself in your bathroom for two days without a phone, computer, television or radio. See what that does to your thinking. That is how our prison system works, and that is why we all pay for the system’s inability to deal with people it confines and punishes.

Shoatz’s supporters were cautiously optimistic that following his completion of a prison-initiated “step down program,” which he completed successfully, prison officials at State Correctional Institution Frackville would release him into the general population. Yet 10 days ago, officials informed Shoatz that they intended to transfer him to another prison instead. The prison to which he is transferred could then consider him for release into its general population.