Attorneys for two civil rights group filed a federal court lawsuit Wednesday charging numerous violations by local law enforcement and the FBI in an Aug. 27 raid of Berkeley’s Long Haul Infoshop.
Representatives of the FBI’s Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force, including UC Berkeley police, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI conducted the two-hour-long raid.
Filing the action were attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), which specializes in civil rights arising in the realm of electronic communication. The civil rights groups charge that the raid violated the constitutional rights of the Infoshop and East Bay Prisoner Support.
Police seized all the computers and computer disks they could find during their raid of the two-story brick office and meeting quarters at 3124 Shattuck Ave.
They were seeking information about the origins of threatening e-mails sent to UC Berkeley animal researchers by anonymous animal rights activists, according to an affidavit signed by campus police Detective William Kasiske, one of the named defendants in the action.
Other defendants included the UC Board of Regents, Alameda County and the FBI. Other named individual defendants are UC Berkeley Associate Vice Chancellor and Police Chief Victoria Harrison, three other campus police officers (Detective Wade MacAdam, Corporal Timothy J. Zuniga and Officer Bruce Bauer), Alameda County Sheriff Gregory J. Ahern and Lt. Mike Hart and FBI Special Agent Lisa Shaffer.
The plaintiffs are seeking to regain control of all information seized in the raid, to preserve its confidentiality, to bar any retaliation or surveillance resulting from the information and to obtain “compensation for the invasion of those interests that has already occurred.”
The action is based on 10 separate counts, including alleged violations of the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, three civil rights sections of the state constitution, the Privacy Protection Act, the California Penal Code, trespass, the California Civil Code and a claim for declaratory relief.
No monetary sum was specified for the “nominal, special and statutory damages” sought, though the action asks for treble damages wherever possible under the law. The suit also seeks to recover all legal costs.
“The Slingshot and EBPS computers were clearly marked and kept behind locked doors,” said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. “Yet the raid officers broke into the offices to take information these organizations collected and relied on to publish information to their readership.
“This is a blatant violation of federal law and the First and Fourth Amendments, interfering with the freedom of the press,” she said in a prepared statement released Wednesday afternoon.
“As long as the government keeps the copies they made of these hard drives, they are continuing to violate the privacy of everyone who wrote or stored a document on the computers.” said Michael Risher, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, in the same prepared statement.
“We filed this lawsuit to protect fundamental rights and to stop these illegal searches from happening in the future,” he said.
The Long Haul maintains a public computer access room where anyone can use computers in a separate second-floor room to go online.
The prisoner support group kept computers in a separate office in the building, which was padlocked when police staged their raid.
The Long Haul has its offices separate from the computer room, and computers seized included those used by Slingshot, a publication the Infoshop has published since 1988. It is housed in a separate office behind a locked door that was forced by officers at the time of their raid.
The lawsuit contends that the warrant was invalid on its face.
The Privacy Protection Act count singles out a federal statute that raises the legal bar for warrants that seek to confiscate materials from news media such as Slingshot, an EFF attorney has said.
UC Berkeley spokesperson Robert Sanders, who has been handling animal rights issues for the university, said that seizing the computers was essential in determining “who was threatening the lives of these researchers.
“We followed the letter of the law in pursuing these threats,” he said.
Sanders said he couldn’t make specific comments on the lawsuit because he hadn’t seen the filing as of Wednesday afternoon.
The court filing is available online at www.eff.org/press/archives/2009/01/14.