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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Police Settle Suit Over Radical Group Raid

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Law enforcement agreed to pay two activist groups $100,000 to settle claims over a 2008 raid, agreeing that one of the raided properties was a protected entity that should not have been subject to search.

Armed FBI agents and officers with the University of California-Berkeley Police Department raided Long Haul Inc. and East Bay Prisoner Support in August 2008 when the businesses were closed.

Long Haul is an alternative library and community center in Berkeley. East Bay Prisoner Support publishes materials about the struggles of prisoners. The August search stemmed from an investigation of threatening emails sent to Berkeley animal researchers.

During the raid, officers allegedly learned who had borrowed books from the Long Haul library, seized public access computers and broke the locks to an office that houses Long Haul's biweekly newspaper Slingshot. They also took computers and digital storage media, unscrewed the lock on the door to the East Bay Prisoner Support office, and took a computer the organization uses to publish prisoner-rights information, according to the complaint.

In agreeing to settle the charges, the agencies agreed to delete any seized data.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White signed the settlement March 29.

Long Haul and East Bay Prisoner Support had filed suit, alleging that the officers had no reason to suspect the businesses of any wrongdoing and had no such evidence.

The Statement of Probable Cause they presented to a magistrate alleged only that a member of the public improperly used a public-access terminal located at Long Haul, according to the complaint.

But the officers failed to mention that Long Haul and East Bay Prisoner Support enjoy federal and state-law protections from seizure as organizations that distribute information to the public, according to the complaint.

This claim is reflected in the settlement. "UCBPD acknowledges that at the time of the execution of the search warrant, Long Haul was a publisher protected by the Privacy Protection Act ('PPA'), and therefore, the PPA prohibited the seizure of any protected work product materials related to the dissemination of Slingshot, except as provided for in the PPA," the order states. "UCBPD has denied that it was aware at the time the search warrant was executed that Long Haul was a publisher protected by the PPA."

According to the agreement, the defendants had probable cause to seize Long Haul's public-access computers. The parties dispute whether the defendants had probable cause to seize the other Long Haul computers or for the broad scope of the search of the public-access computers. The university police department determined they had no evidence that Long Haul, Slingshot or East Bay Prisoner Support had committed any criminal acts.

Long Haul and East Bay Prisoner Support can collect $98,450 in legal fees and $1,550 in damages.

East Bay Prisoner Support representative Patrick Lyons does not place much stock in the settlement.

"I have no faith that this agreement will change the attitudes or behaviors of the UC Police or the FBI," he said in a statement with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "From kicking in the door and stealing our stuff, to the now-infamous UC Davis pepper spray incident, it is clear that the UC cops are at war with radicals, anarchists, and activists, and that will not change. I do, however, think it is important that when they attack us, we fight back."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union represented the groups in the lawsuit.

Long Haul representative Jesse Palmer called the raid "an abuse of power."

"The police refused to show Long Haul representatives a copy of the search warrant, prevented anyone from watching what they were taking during the raid, and preferred to cut locks rather than accept our offer to unlock doors," Palmer said, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "The raid was a fishing expedition and an attempt to intimidate and harass radicals undertaken by the FBI and the UCPD, but as the settlement demonstrates, it was the police who broke the law. We have done nothing wrong."

Palmer and Long Haul hope "law enforcement will think twice before they raid other radical spaces on flimsy pretenses," the release states.

Long Haul and East Bay Prisoner Support say they will each donate $500 from the settlement proceeds to the Occupy Oakland Anti-Repression Committee, aiming "to assist others targeted by the police for their political beliefs."

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