(NaturalNews) A California court has ordered law enforcement agencies to pay $100,000 in compensation to a pair of left-wing radical activist groups because they were shielded by federal and state laws that, in this case, protected someone who threatened some university scientists.
The case stems from an after-hours raid against Long Haul Inc. and East Bay Prisoner Support by FBI agents and officers from the University of California, Berkeley Police Department (UCBPD) in 2008, an operation that stemmed from an investigation of threatening emails that had been sent to animal researchers at the school.
Long Haul Inc. is billed as an alternative library in Berkeley, while East Bay Prisoner Support "publishes materials about the struggles of prisoners," Courthouse News Service reported.
In a lawsuit stemming from the raids, the groups alleged that police and agents were able to learn who was checking out books from the library. Also, the suit says authorities seized public access computers and broke into a locked office that houses Slingshot, a bi-weekly newspaper published by Long Haul Inc.
Police "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," said the report, according to the suit.
Protected by law
In their complaint the organizations said police had no legitimate reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. Also, the groups said police had no evidence upon which to search their premises. According to the statement of probable cause, police alleged only that someone improperly used a public access computer to send emails to Berkeley.
What cops failed to mention in the probable cause statement, however, is that both Long Haul Inc. and East Bay Prisoner Support are protected from seizures because they are organizations that distribute information to the public.
In the settlement, police admitted the mistake.
"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," said the settlement.
"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," it said.
No confidence in the future?
Still, the agreement acknowledges that police had probable cause to seize the public-access computers, just not other computers in both offices. But either way, the settlement awards both groups $98,450 in legal fees and $1,550 in damages.
Patrick Lyons, a spokesman for East Bay Prisoner Support, says he doesn't believe the settlement will change the mindset of police.
"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 to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an electronic privacy rights group.
"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," Lyons said.
In another slap at cops, both activist groups said they planned to donate $500 each of their damages award to the Occupy Oakland Anti-Repression Committee, aiming "to assist others targeted by the police for their political beliefs."
Also, East Bay Prisoner Support preaches anarchy, sees police brutality under every rock, and believes every incident involving law enforcement is an exercise in racism. And a search of the group's site did not come up with a single statement of sympathy or support for the UC-Berkeley researchers who were threatened by someone using East Bay's computer.
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