Jury deliberates Earth First! trial

By COLLEEN VALLES, The Associated Press
Monday May 20, 2002

OAKLAND — Attorneys for FBI agents and Oakland police officers said the officers acted within reason and did not violate the constitutional rights of two Earth First! activists injured when a bomb went off in their car in 1990. 

Closing arguments were given Friday in the officers’ federal civil trial and the case was given to a jury. 

The law enforcement agents are accused of violating the civil rights of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, both injured in the 1990 bombing. Bari and Cherney were arrested after the bombing on suspicion of possessing and transporting the bomb, but no one was ever charged. 

Attorneys for the defense said officers conducted a thorough and reasonable investigation. 

“With what they knew at the time, it was reasonable to make the decisions they did,” Oakland attorney Maria Bee, who is representing the three policemen in the case, said in closing arguments. “There was a fair probability to believe they were knowingly transporting the device.” 

Cherney and Bari filed suit, alleging false arrest, illegal search, slanderous statements and conspiracy. Bari has since died of cancer, and her estate has pursued the suit. 

Justice Department attorney Joseph Sher, who was defending the six FBI agents, said the federal agents and local officers were not conspiring, but sharing information. 

“I ask you if you want a world where officers investigating (what is) indisputably a crime conceal evidence from each other,” he said to the jury. 

The plaintiffs had also accused the officers of lying, for instance, in saying in a search warrant that the bomb had been clearly visible to Cherney and Bari in the back of the car. 

But the defense argued that based on the information at the time of the bombing, it was a reasonable conclusion that the bomb was visible. Four bomb technicians who examined the car came to the same conclusion, Sher said. 

“Based on the information that was available ... it’s all consistent with the bomb being where the warrant says it was,” Sher said. 

The plaintiffs had also charged that the FBI and Oakland Police Department regarded Earth First! as a terrorist group, illegally targeted the group to stop its activities and engaged in a smear campaign against the two activists and Earth First! 

Bee said that was untrue. 

“They had never heard of these people or their organization,” she said. “Why would they risk their careers to frame someone?” 

The defense also denied Bari and Cherney’s assertions that they were nonviolent and did not engage in sabotage. Bari and Cherney had renounced tree-spiking, but Sher pointed to a road-spiking kit found in Cherney’s car, and Bee pointed to the song “Spike a Tree for Jesus” that Cherney wrote and sang during testimony. 

Cherney’s attorneys apologized for the song during their closing arguments Thursday. 

But Bee took exception to the claim of peacefulness and the comparison that the activists made to civil rights activists in the 1960s 

“They didn’t sing songs about hurting other human beings,” Bee said of the civil rights activists. “That nonviolence is a charade.”