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Santa Cruz Indymedia | Police State and Prisons

Investigation Reveals More SCPD Spying
by Just Us
Tuesday Feb 14th, 2006 10:21 AM
Auditor pans Internal Police Report; Details of Internal Investigation reveal pattern of abuses: spying on other first amendment activities, profiling innocent people, gathering bad intelligence

Aaronson, in a letter to Council circulated at Monday's Public Safety Committee, said the investigation "is incomplete and flawed for a very predictable reason."

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Larger version of Bob Aaronson's letter (1275 x 1725):
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Santa Cruz, CA, February 15th, 2006: Police Auditor Bob Aaronson rejected the results of the Santa Cruz Police Department’s investigation of its own behavior in the Parade Spying Scandal. Heading the investigation into police spying was Deputy Chief Kevin Vogel who, according to public records obtained by the ACLU, was the officer who ordered the undercover infiltration. Predictably, the police cleared themselves of any wrong-doing. Additionally the report attempted to make the case that the spying, while legally questionable, was expedient and useful.

Aaronson, in a letter to Council circulated at Monday's Public Safety Committee, said the investigation "is incomplete and flawed for a very predictable reason. It violates one of the most basic investigative precepts by having been compiled and written by the very individual whose decisions are and should be under investigative scrutiny." He went on to say "I am surprised and disappointed that he was assigned to that task."

Details of the 600-page report , released to the public Friday, reveal a pattern of abuses, including spying on parade organizers, spying on other unrelated groups and first amendment activities, and profiling organizers and other unrelated people.

SCPD Deputy Chief Kevin Vogel and Lt. Rudy Escalante learned about the planned grassroots New Year's Eve parade in October. Without attempting to contact parade organizers, SCPD chose to send two undercover officers to the planning meetings held in a private residence to learn everything they could about the group and the event. In the internal investigation, they claim to have been alarmed by what they described as “a defiant tone.”

Auditor Aaronson said in his letter to Council, "I remain troubled by the fact that the Department made broad, untested assumptions about the Last Night DIY organizers as the basis for inserting an undercover team into their midst." He described those assumptions as "tantamount to categorical prejudices."

From the beginning SCPD observed that the planned parade was a peaceful gathering with no serious criminal intent, yet they continued infiltrating meetings undercover for another three months. Though the initial conclusion of undercover officers was that the parade planning group “will be a peaceful gathering” and that they “have nothing to hide,” SCPD made no attempt to contact the group and continued to infiltrate the group from October to December.

“In other words,” said parade organizer Wes Modes, “they went from the merest hunch all the way to undercover infiltrating without taking any of the steps in between. This was a community group planning a peaceful act of civil disobedience.” Modes was one of the organizers profiled in the police investigation of the parade, along with two other people.

John Hirst who lived in the Santa Cruz house where the meetings took place, was not involved in parade planning. However, he is identified in the internal investigation as one of the main organizers. A detailed police dossier appears in the report along with his private information, details about his appearance, scars, and past police history. Details of other individuals are identified in the report by name who played a peripheral part in parade planning.

SCPD used their presence at the planning meetings to gather information about other community groups and First Amendment activities taking place.. They used this information to monitor events and tip off other outside agencies. Officers posing as parade planners gathered information about the planned peaceful protest against virgin forest destruction by Victoria’s Secret and relayed this information to Capitola Police. On the date of the protest, dozens of officers denied protesters entrance to the mall. Infiltrators also gathered information about Art & Revolution's “Anti-Corporate Christmas Caroling” on Pacific Ave. without any evidence that the group had any intention of breaking any laws. Police monitored the group's activities at the event.

During the police spying, undercover officers gathered information about unrelated community groups, including Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In, Art & Revolution, Santa Cruz Indymedia, Free Skool Santa Cruz, and the Big Yellow House co-op.

In the report, Vogel makes the claim that undercover monitoring of the parade planning meetings was “invaluable” and ensured public safety and provided useful intelligence. However, during the infiltration, police erroneously profiled an uninvolved person as a primary organizer, were unaware of three of the six planning meetings, were unaware of the email list, reported dates of other protests incorrectly, and interfered with first amendment activities.

Even without SCPD assistance, Vogel thought “the parade went very smoothly.” Elsewhere in the report it is noted that parade organizers made their own arrangements for sanitation, security, traffic, and conflict management.

According to White v. Davis (1975) the California Supreme Court determined that monitoring of peaceful groups risks chilling free expression and violates the state and federal constitutional protections of free speech, free assembly, and privacy. In response, Attorney General Bill Lockyer made a series of recommendations to local governments to protect citizen's rights to free expression. The city of Santa Cruz has yet to adopt these standards. Some lawyers fear that without a policy that includes first amendment protections, the Santa Cruz City Council is exposing the city to potential lawsuits.

SCPD has received recent criticism for having no policy on undercover operations. Included in Friday’s report is a hastily-assembled one-page policy dealing with undercover surveillance that provides no protections for people’s rights. The proposed policy gives the police the right to monitor any group in which the group or any member of the group plans any illegal activity. This gives the SCPD the green light to monitor any type of civil disobedience or peaceful group if they felt that a member of the group planned to break any laws.

A draft ordinance limiting police powers and offering strong protections of First Amendment activities has been presented to the Santa Cruz City Council. The draft ordinance will be discussed in Tuesday afternoon’s City Council meeting.

Questions remain about how extensive police spying is in Santa Cruz, what were the costs involved in the spy operation, and what Santa Cruz residents can do to keep police officers out of their meetings and their homes.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Rico
Tuesday Feb 14th, 2006 10:38 PM
What a rollicking few days. Ups, downs, highs lows. We got our independent investigation into police spying. Or at least as independent as a man who earns $3300 a month from the city managers he's investigating can be. We're still pulling for the council to take strong action to freeze police monitoring of first amendment activities.

Check it out. During the press conference one of the TV news reporters tugs on my sleeve -- he's got a cell phone up to one ear -- he tells me that the police auditor is pissed about the lengthy police report (the police investigating themselves and determining that they did nothing wrong) and they've approved an independent investigation.

A letter from the auditor was circulated to the council. I was reading it during council session and I was busting up. It was like the part in the comedy where everyone has gone insane and everything is upside down and you get the straight man walking in with this funny expression on his face. Hilarious.

He said the investigation "is incomplete and flawed for a very predictable reason. It violates one of the most basic investigative precepts by having been compiled and written by the very individual whose decisions are and should be under investigative scrutiny." He went on to say "I am surprised and disappointed that he was assigned to that task."

Duh. We've been telling anyone who'd listen for three weeks.

About the spying itself he said: "I remain troubled by the fact that the Department made broad, untested assumptions about the Last Night DIY organizers as the basis for inserting an undercover team into their midst." He described those assumptions as "tantamount to categorical prejudices."

In the chorus of people (including the Sentinel) saying it's okay for police to spy on people in their homes if they plan to jaywalk, it was just good to hear at least one little voice of sanity

Keep up the fight. You know the bigger one.

Rico

P.S. Okay, I have to say a word here about all this hoopla. I haven't lost sight of the fact that this was just a parade. We did it. We had fun. Our town rocks. It's over. So why all the fuss? (Councilmember Porter asked me just this question -- he used the words, "No harm, no foul.") Though I know there are other huge issues in this town right now, in the nation, and in the wide world, the issue of free speech underlies the ability to resist, to express dissent, and make change in this world. We just honored Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks and watched dignitaries and politicians honor their memory. But lest we forget, they were lawbreakers. They defied laws to challenge the institutional structure of our society. I hope we all can show that level of courage and defiance.


by Rico
Wednesday Feb 15th, 2006 7:51 AM
Oh this is just gettign too good.

Police chief say city rushed department on internal investigation
SC Sentinel - Feb 15, 2006
http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2006/February/15/local/stories/01local.htm

First the police fuck up and spy on a totally benign community group, find it is peaceful and respobnsible, keep spying for three months gathering whatever info they can, get exposed, claim public safety justified their actions, and release a report that clears them of all responsibility. Now, they are going to try to pass the blame off to the Council who gave them all the confidence and patience and rope they needed to hang themselves.

Geez, Louis.
by John Thielking
( pagesincolor [at] aol.com ) Friday Feb 17th, 2006 9:51 PM
I skimmed through the 600 page report at the library. I noticed that apparently the undercover cops showed up at the first meeting in October and the third meeting in December. So they were there when I was there in October. Funny, I don't remember any surfer dudes at the meeting I was at, though I do remember setting the agenda for having the parade be in the early evening on Dec 31st. It also seems that Rico and co gave the undercover cops the slip at the meeting at the coffee house. It wasn't clear, but it seems that he faked having the meeting have no one show up at the coffee house but then notified the legit organizers by e-mail to show up at the wired wash? Hmmm...

Looking over the parade permit applications and rules it became obvious that the rules just don't make it practical for a political group to organize a march with a permit in Santa Cruz. Most of the time political marches and gatherings are organized with much less than 30 days advance notice. Execution dates and so on often come up very quickly and people need to organize quicker than 30 days in advance. The city will not process a permit application that is submitted less than 30 days before the planned event. The minimum fee for an event permit is $75 if it is organized 60 days in advance and this jumps to $150 for 59-30 days in advance. This fee could bankrupt a small organization such as the HRO. Last Night organizers had no budget at all.

Also, according to the contingency planning documents, the police were planning to make arrests if the DIY Last Night parade blocked traffic on Pacific Avenue. At the actual event, there was very little traffic on Pacific Avenue and the parade proceeded with no police interference.

The ACLU cites a court case and the Attorney General’s guidelines in underlining the fact that the privacy rights of organizers of Last Night were likely violated by the Santa Cruz Police.
by John Thielking
( pagesincolor [at] aol.com ) Saturday Feb 18th, 2006 8:58 PM
One more thing about that internal investigation report: It says at the very beginning that the police dept policy should be to attempt to contact the event organizers directly before engaging in any undercover police work. This is obviously policy that was made up after the fact, as I have heard from other sources that there was no specific policy before the Last Night investigation started. In any event, if that really is now what the policy should be, then there would be no need for any repeats of this type of undercover investigation.