Two Oakland police officers working undercover at an anti-war protest
in May 2003 got themselves elected to leadership positions in an effort to influence
the demonstration, documents released Thursday show.
The department assigned the officers to join activists protesting the U.S.
war in Iraq and the tactics that police had used at a demonstration a month
earlier, a police official said last year in a sworn deposition.
At the first demonstration, police fired nonlethal bullets and bean bags at
demonstrators who blocked the Port of Oakland's entrance in a protest against
two shipping companies they said were helping the war effort. Dozens of activists
and longshoremen on their way to work suffered injuries ranging from welts to
broken bones and have won nearly $2 million in legal settlements from the city.
The extent of the officers' involvement in the subsequent march May 12, 2003,
led by Direct Action to Stop the War and others, is unclear. But in a deposition
related to a lawsuit filed by protesters, Deputy Police Chief Howard Jordan
said activists had elected the undercover officers to "plan the route of
the march and decide I guess where it would end up and some of the places that
it would go."
It was revealed later that the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center,
which was established by the state attorney general's office to help local police
agencies fight terrorism, had posted an alert about the April protest. Oakland
police had also monitored online postings by the longshoremen's union regarding
its opposition to the war.
The documents showing that police subsequently tried to influence a demonstration
were released Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union, as part of a report
criticizing government surveillance of political activists since the terrorist
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The ACLU said the documents came from the lawsuit
over the police use of force.
Jordan, in his deposition in April 2005, said under questioning by plaintiffs'
attorney Jim Chanin that undercover Officers Nobuko Biechler and Mark Turpin
had been elected to be leaders in the May 12 demonstration an hour after meeting
protesters that day.
Asked who had ordered the officers to infiltrate the group, Jordan said, "I
don't know if there is one particular person, but I think together we probably
all decided it would be a good idea to have some undercover officers there."
Several months after the rally, Jordan told a city police review board examining
the April 2003 port clash that "our ability to gather intelligence on these
groups and this type of operation needs to be improved," according to a
transcript provided by the ACLU.
"I don't mean same-day intelligence," Jordan told the civilian review
panel. "I'm talking about long-term intelligence gathering."
He noted that "two of our officers were elected leaders within an hour
on May 12." The idea was "to gather the information and maybe even
direct them to do something that we want them to do," Jordan said.
"I call that being totalitarian," said Jack Heyman, a longshoremen's
union member who took part in the May 12 march. He said he was not certain whether
he had any contact with the officers that day.
Jordan declined to comment when reached at his office Thursday. In his deposition,
he said the Police Department no longer allows such undercover work.
City Attorney John Russo said he was not familiar with the police infiltration
of the protest, but said the city had made "significant changes" in
its approach toward demonstrations after the port incident. Police enacted a
new crowd-control policy limiting the use of nonlethal force in 2004.
The ACLU said the Oakland case was one of several instances in which police
agencies had spied on legitimate political activity since 2001.
Mark Schlosberg, who directs the ACLU's police policy work and wrote the report
released Thursday, cited previously reported instances of spying on groups in
Santa Cruz and Fresno in addition to the Oakland case. He called on state Attorney
General Bill Lockyer and local police to ensure that law-abiding activist groups
don't come under government investigation.
"It's very important that there be regulation up front to prevent these
kinds of abuses from occurring," Schlosberg said at a news conference.
Schlosberg said the state needs an independent inspector looking into complaints
and keeping an eye on intelligence gathering at such agencies as the California
National Guard and the state Department of Homeland Security.
Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Lockyer, said the attorney general had not yet
read the ACLU report. But he said his boss "won't abide violations of civil
liberties. There's no room in this state or anywhere in this country for monitoring
the activity of groups merely because they have a political viewpoint."
Following the Oakland port protest and disclosures about the monitoring of
activists, Lockyer issued guidelines in 2003 stating that police must suspect
that a crime has been committed before collecting intelligence on activist groups.
But Schlosberg said the ACLU had surveyed 94 law enforcement agencies last
year and found that just eight were aware of the guidelines. Only six had written
policies restricting surveillance activities, he said.
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