[Hpn] Police Infiltrated Convention Protest Groups, Legal Documents Show

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Thu, 07 Sep 2000 23:53:36 -0700 (PDT)


http://CommonDreams.org/headlines/090700-01.htm
FWD  Philadelphia Inquirer - Thursday, September 7, 2000

     STATE POLICE INFILTRATED PROTEST GROUPS, DOCUMENTS SHOW

     Search-warrant affidavits reveal an undercover operation
     aimed at activists in Philadelphia for the GOP convention.

     by Linda K. Harris,, Craig R. McCoy and Thomas Ginsberg
         
        State police undercover agents posing as demonstrators infiltrated
activist groups planning the protests at the Republican National
Convention, search-warrant documents made public yesterday showed.

        The undercover operation was detailed in legal documents filed Aug.
1 by Philadelphia police seeking search warrants for a raid that day on a
so-called "puppet warehouse" at 4100 Haverford Ave. in West Philadelphia.
The documents were under a court seal until yesterday.

        About 75 people were arrested in the raid at the warehouse.

        The infiltration was immediately condemned yesterday by the state
chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the city public
defender's office.

        "It's worse than sleazeball," said Stefan Presser, the ACLU's legal
director. "This is an outrage."

        Presser and other critics said dissenters needed the right to rally
and to organize without fear that police were spying on them. They said
they feared that police undercover officers could cross the line from
intelligence-gatherers to provocateurs.

        "The legality and propriety of this potentially unconstitutional
police conduct will certainly be an issue at the time of trial in all of
these cases," said Bradley Bridge, a senior lawyer with the defender's
office.

        During the convention, Police Commissioner John F. Timoney
repeatedly denied that police had engaged in infiltration.

        "We had not infiltrated any group," he said the day after police
raided the warehouse that had become one of several gathering spots for
demonstrators during the convention.

        A spokeswoman for the commissioner said yesterday that he would
have no comment. Lt. Susan Slawson, commander of the police public-affairs
unit, said the commissioner could not talk because "it's in litigation," a
reference to a civil suit filed by demonstrators challenging their arrests
during the protests.

        The use of state police as the undercover operatives took place as
the city itself was restricted from using its own officers for such
infiltration under a long-standing mayoral directive. The directive says
the police may not infiltrate protest groups without the permission of the
mayor, the managing director, and the police commissioner.

        Mayor Street and City Solicitor Kenneth Trujillo declined comment
yesterday.

        In seeking search warrants, police cited the work of the undercover
operatives and detailed the intelligence gathered as the convention
approached. The information is sketched out in affidavits of probable cause
seeking warrants to search the warehouse, a U-Haul van, another van, and a
pickup that police deemed suspicious.

        "This investigation is utilizing several Pennsylvania state
troopers in an undercover capacity that have infiltrated several of the
activist groups planning to commit numerous illegal direct actions," said
one affidavit, signed by Detective William Egenlauf of the Philadelphia
Police Department.

        It says the state police undercover operatives arrived at the
warehouse on July 27, four days before the convention began.

        Once there, the agents assisted "in the construction of props to be
used during protests," the affidavit says.

        It says agents observed demonstrators building street barriers and
"lock boxes," devices used by protesters to lock arms together when
blocking streets. The papers say they overheard discussions that indicated
protesters planned on "using the puppets . . . as blockades."

        The operatives also reported that "persons indicated they would be
throwing pies, bottles and cardboard boxes filled with water at the
police," the affidavits stated.

        Timoney held a news conference after the convention to display
items seized during the raid, including two massive slingshots and chains
wrapped in kerosene-soaked rags. Such devices were not used during the
protests. Police also displayed seized "lock boxes."

        Protesters have claimed the facility was nothing more than an art
studio to fashion the puppets, floats and other props that were a hallmark
of the demonstrations.

        Demonstrators also said their protests would be nonviolent, with
illegal actions limited to the blockading of streets. Their lawyers have
complained that numerous people were arrested in the warehouse without any
proof they had any connection to illegal items.

        A key subject of controversy has been the raid on the warehouse.

        The request for the search warrants for the warehouse and lengthy
affidavits detailing police intelligence-gathering was made yesterday, a
month after Municipal Court President Judge Louis J. Presenza approved the
searches.

        At the request of the District Attorney's Office, the warrants were
sealed - barred from public inspection - for a month as soon as they were
issued. The legal request for the warrants maintained that premature
"disclosure of this affidavit could endanger the lives" of the undercover
operatives.

        The affidavits cite sweeping police intelligence-gathering before
the convention. This included monitoring of unspecified "electronic
messages" sent among demonstrators, an apparent reference to police
scrutiny of Web sites and electronic mailing lists.

        The police documents identified what investigators viewed as the
key protest groups and their goals. Funds for one group "allegedly
originate with Communist and leftist parties and from sympathetic trade
unions" or from "the former Soviet-allied World Federation of Trade
Unions," according to the affidavits.

        The affidavits go on to identify a handful of leaders of the
various groups. Among those cited by name are John Sellers and Kate
Sorensen, who were later arrested during demonstrations in Center City. The
two were held in jail for days in lieu of $1 million bail - a sum critics
said was extraordinary. In recent interviews after their release from jail,
people who were inside the warehouse said that they had suspected early on
that four undercover officers were working among them. Four men - known as
Tim, Harry, George and Ryan - showed up together at 41st and Haverford
about a week before the convention, introducing themselves as union
carpenters from Wilkes-Barre who built stages, several demonstrators said.

        They were big, burly men who were older than most of the people
working in the warehouse. They did not seem particularly political or
well-informed, according to demonstrators. All four, however, were
considered hard workers.

        Soliman Lawrence, 20, of Tallahassee, Fla., worked closely with the
four on a massive satirical float built for a protest march.

        "They gained our trust," Lawrence said. "The fact that we didn't
know them very well wasn't a big deal.

        "I remember thinking to myself, 'Why does everyone who looks like
that have to be a cop?' " Lawrence said. "I didn't like that I thought like
that."

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