Friday, May 7, 2010

Activist spied on? Man wins settlement

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 - Page updated at 02:31 PM


Activist spied on? Man wins settlement

Seattle Times staff reporter

A 22-year-old anti-war activist from The Evergreen State College will get $169,000 as part of a settlement with the State Patrol and two other law-enforcement agencies over allegations that their officers engaged in political spying and harassment.

Philip Chinn was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving by state patrol troopers in May 2007, while traveling to an anti-war protest at the Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen.

According to court documents, Chinn was pulled over after police had broadcast an "attempt to locate" his car, which was described as containing "three known anarchists."

The criminal charge was dismissed after tests showed Chinn had no alcohol or drugs in his system. Chinn sued last year, alleging false arrest and violations of his right to free speech.

The State Patrol has agreed to pay Chinn $109,000, and the city of Aberdeen and Grays Harbor County each will pay $30,000 toward the settlement. The three agencies have also agreed to pay his lawyer's fees, which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates at more than $375,000.

The ACLU took up Chinn's cause because it believes the case and other allegations suggest that spying on dissidents by local enforcement, at the behest of the military, "appears to be far more pervasive than we had thought," said ACLU spokesman Doug Honig.

A spokesman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord says the military did not provide any intelligence to law enforcement in the Chinn case.

In the spring of 2007, Chinn was a student at Evergreen and was involved in protesting the use of civilian ports for military purposes, according to one of his attorneys, Lawrence Hildes. Materiel intended for Iraq was being moved through the ports at Aberdeen, Olympia and elsewhere, and there had been a number of public protests.

Documents filed by Chinn's attorneys state that "state and local law-enforcement agencies, military entities and others" responded to the protests by developing "incident-action plans" aimed at disrupting them. The service branches involved allegedly include the Army, the Navy and the Coast Guard, according to court pleadings.

"Based on assumptions regarding individuals associated with anarchist philosophies, the Action Plan was designed to deter and prevent individuals believed to be 'anarchists' or associated with anarchists from participating in the anti-war demonstrations," according to the documents.

The lawsuit alleges that Chinn was under surveillance when he left his house in Olympia headed for a protest in Aberdeen on May 6, 2007.

Aberdeen Police Assistant Chief Dave Timmons acknowledged that his detectives had been watching Chinn and others as the city geared up to respond to the planned protest. Similar protests in Tacoma and Olympia earlier had turned violent, with arrests and vandalism, and Timmons said "we wanted to be aware of what their plans were."

"We wanted to know what they were bringing to Grays Harbor," he said.

Timmons said the Aberdeen police had been alerted to Chinn and others through "various intelligence sources," including other law-enforcement agencies and the military.

"We worked with both," he said.

Joseph Piek, the civilian chief of external communications with Joint Base Lewis-McChord, said that while the base has "a long-standing, close, cooperative relationship with local law-enforcement agencies, and we exchange information regularly," its law-enforcement officials "did not provide any information related to Mr. Chinn to any law-enforcement entity."

It was the Aberdeen detectives who asked for the "attempt to locate" for Chinn's car, the assistant chief said.

That broadcast directed officers to look for Chinn's green Ford Taurus, which was described as carrying the trio of anarchists. A trooper spotted the car, recognized it, and pulled it over. According to court documents, the trooper stated in his written report that Chinn was "braking erratically" and driving below the speed limit.

While troopers smelled no alcohol or marijuana, according to the documents, Chinn was subjected to field-sobriety tests, which he passed, according to the documents. He was arrested after one trooper concluded he was high based on "raised taste buds and a white coating on the back of his tongue," according to the pleadings.

A blood test vindicated Chinn; however, Hildes, his attorney, says the county prosecutor still refused to dismiss the charge until the defense learned of the existence of the "attempt-to-locate" dispatch tape.

Bob Calkins, a spokesman for the State Patrol, said the agency believes the trooper acted appropriately and said he was not disciplined.

"But I think we realize that, given the facts, a jury might have seen it the other way," Calkins said.

Honig and attorneys working with the ACLU say the Chinn case is disturbing, but is only one of a number of stories surfacing about allegations of law-enforcement and military surveillance of political activists.

Another lawsuit filed in January by Hildes and which Honig says is being closely monitored by the ACLU involves members of an anti-war group in Olympia. They allege that a civilian employee of the Force Protection Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord infiltrated their group. His identity was revealed through a public-disclosure request.

The employee has since been outed as a "professional informant" on a website. That individual and his civilian boss are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Piek, the base spokesman, said the Army has opened an investigation into those allegations and that he could not discuss them further. He declined to discuss the employee, saying that the man's work was "sensitive." A telephone message left at the man's home was not returned Tuesday.

Hildes alleges in the January lawsuit that the military has attempted to skirt the Reconstruction-era Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits federal troops from performing law-enforcement functions.

"What we're concerned has happened is that, somehow, the act of dissent itself has become criminalized," Hildes said. "How it got from monitoring a threat to disrupting people not otherwise engaged in wrongdoing, I can't explain."

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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