Local Law Enforcement Violates the State Constitution
Continues to Infiltrate Fresno Peace Groups
By Mike Rhodes
April 6, 2005
Evidence that local law enforcement is continuing to infiltrate Fresno peace groups was presented at a press conference at California State University Fresno (CSUF) today. Ruth Obel-Jorgensen, president of the campus Peace & Civil Liberties Coalition said "we have recently discovered that undercover law enforcement agents were present at an event we held." Obel-Jorgensen said that CSUF police chief David Huerta admitted that undercover agents were at a presentation by Gary Yourofsky, which the group sponsored in November 2004. Yourofsky is one of the foremost animal rights lecturers in the United States.
Today’s press conference came on the same day as The Fresno Bee reported
that Peace Fresno was again being monitored by undercover law enforcement
agents. The Bee article
< http://www.fresnobee.com/local/story/10259715p-11070404c.html > describes a Peace Fresno event, The Rally in the Valley < http://www.indybay.org/news/2005/03/1728059.php > where undercover law enforcement agents were present.
Law enforcement’s presence at the Rally in The Valley was dramatically different than earlier Peace Fresno events. For example at a march held in the Tower District
< http://www.indybay.org/news/2004/08/1693622.php > in August of 2004 the Fresno Police had a very visible presence. There were police in cars, on bikes, on foot, and on horses. They were everywhere! When Peace Fresno organizers were asked on the day of the Rally in the Valley about the lack of a police presence one shrugged and said "there here but you just don’t see them." That assumption was proven correct when The Fresno Bee identified a photo of a particularly large sheriff deputy dressed in street clothes in a photo they shot.
Law enforcement in Fresno is downplaying the significance of the shift in tactics and claim that the surveillance is simply business as usual. David Moll, director of public safety at CSUF was quoted in The Fresno Bee as saying "I don’t see what the problem is. There’s undercover police everywhere. They’re gathering intelligence to keep order, not to repress anybody."
At the press conference on campus, students were joined by faculty and several community groups, to demand an end to the infiltration and a full disclosure of what law enforcement has been up to. Obel-Jorgensen said that the infiltration "is a breach of academic freedom of our civil liberties. . . and we want the university to acknowledge that this is an unjust practice." Nicholas DeGraff, who is working with the students and the American Civil Liberties Union on this issue, said that California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has distributed guidelines to all law enforcement offices. Those guidelines direct law enforcement to adhere to the California Constitution that prohibits the infiltration or monitoring of groups unless there is evidence of criminal activity. Nathan Barankin who works in the Attorney General’s office agreed, saying "in California we have strong privacy guarantees. The AG’s policy is that we do not conduct undercover surveillance without probable cause of criminal predicate. In plain language, that means we don’t go on fishing missions."
In a panel at CSUF, following the press conference, speakers detailed a pattern of abuse that went back decades.
Civil Liberties Violations in the 1980's
During the 1980's the Latin American Support Committee (LASC), a grassroots Fresno group working to stop US intervention in Central America, was investigated by the FBI. There was a student group affiliated with LASC and Scott Stark was the chairperson. Stark said that after he returned from a trip to Nicaragua, he noticed a middle aged man in an unmarked car with government plates taking pictures of him. The investigation involved anti-intervention activists both on and off campus. FBI documents obtained by Indymedia reporters indicate a wide ranging investigation with agents following activists to meetings throughout the valley, monitoring their mail, photographing demonstrations and other events, and maintaining extensive files.
LASC pressured the FBI to reveal why they were investigating a group that was engaged in no criminal activity. In a statement addressing this question, the FBI claimed LASC was under investigation because they had found the groups address on "Top Ten Fugitive, Raymond Luc Levasseur subsequent to his arrest on 11/4/84." LASC contacted Levasseur, who was a member of an urban revolutionary group on the East Cast, who said he had no idea who LASC was and had never been in Fresno.
Members of LASC recalled other troubling incidents during the 80's that they believe were related to FBI or other law enforcement activity. In one incident, a person attending a meeting argued that the group should be raising money for guns to send to Central America. When it was explained that the group was not engaged in criminal activity, he left. He was later seen by a member of LASC at the Fresno Police Department. When spotted, he ducked into another room to avoid a confrontation. A different government agent approached the groups leadership and said he could raise some serious money by robbing banks for the group. The agent said he was "down with the revolution." He was told "don’t contact us, we will contact you" and was never heard from again.
CSUF Anti-Sweatshop Group Infiltrated
Local law enforcement was involved in another case of infiltration 5 years ago. In that case, several CSUF students and faculty were active in organizing an anti-sweatshop demonstration against The Gap on May 6, 2000 where 19 activists were arrested. The protest at the Fashion Fair mall, which is right down the street from CSUF, was one of many held against The Gap’s use of sweatshop labor. There had never been any violence or arrests at any previous protest at Fashion Fair. Organizers were surprised when they were contacted by Fresno City Police and told at a meeting that they would be arrested if they stepped on the "private property" owned by Fashion Fair. Law enforcement seemed much more interested in protecting property rights than the right to free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The Fresno Police Department and Fashion Fair security were amazingly well coordinated on the day of the May 6th demonstration. In fact, a video recording made by a Fashion Fair employee and released in the criminal proceedings following the arrest showed the head of Fashion Fair security directing the FPD who to arrest. They seemed to know who the leadership of the demonstration was and targeted them for arrest. Further discovery during the criminal proceedings reveled that the FPD had, with the coordination of the CSUF police department, infiltrated the anti-sweatshop organization. The infiltrator was a student who was placed, at the direction of the FPD, in the campus group - United Students Against Sweatshops. The informant attended meetings and got on the groups email listserv. She passed the information she gathered on to the FPD. That is how they knew every organizational decision the group made. That is how they new who the leaders were and who to arrest on the day of the demonstration.
The Gap 19 spent a year and a half in the criminal justice system. They were told that they could plead guilty and would be given 10 hours of community service time, or if they were found guilty they could be sentenced for up to 1 year in jail and have to pay a $10,000 fine. The judge in the case eventually dropped all charges because the protestors had broken no law. Several of the activists filed a civil action against the Fashion Fair Mall and the City of Fresno claiming that their civil liberties had been violated. They won an out of court settlement which they distributed to numerous community groups working for peace, social and economic justice.
Several of The Gap 19 protestors returned triumphantly to Fashion Fair to
hold a victory rally on July 4, 2003 where they read the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution on the very spot they had been arrested a few
years earlier. There were no arrests, proving that activists who stand up for
their rights will prevail. To learn more about The Gap 19 see:
< http://www.fresnoalliance.com/home/GAP.htm >
Peace Fresno Infiltrated - The First Time
A couple of months after the victory celebration at Fashion Fair, another police infiltration story broke in Fresno < http://sfbay.indymedia.org/news/2003/10/1650550.php >. Peace Fresno president Camille Russell noticed that a picture in the obituary section of The Fresno Bee looked really familiar. Pictured was Aaron Kilner, who she knew as Aaron Stokes. Kilner was a regular at Peace Fresno meetings. Russell read the obituary that said Kilner was a member of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department and a member of the "anti-terrorist team."
Peace Fresno members remembered that Kilner attended anti war demonstrations with them, took a lot of notes at the meetings, and told them that he was independently wealthy. The Fresno County Sheriff’s department has never clarified what Kilner was doing attending Peace Fresno meetings, but all indications are that he was an informant for the Joint Terrorism Task Force that has been established in this area following the September 11, 2001 tragedy. Millions of dollars have been pumped into this area to protect the community from terrorist sleeper cells, Al-Qaeda, and Peace Fresno.
The infiltration of Peace Fresno made national and international news. It was one of the first concrete examples showing that the US government used the Patriot Act to infiltrate community groups who were not suspected of criminal activity. The story of the infiltration was told on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! Radio show, Bill Moyer’s television show on PBS, and in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 movie. This incident was what many observers believe prompted Attorney General Bill Lockyer to issue the directive to all law enforcement offices in the state directing them to follow the California State Constitution, which prevents them from infiltrating groups that are not under investigation for criminal activity.
The Revolutionary Environmentalism Conference
In February 2003 a conference titled "Revolutionary Environmentalism: A Dialogue Between Activists and Academics," was held at CSUF. While faculty and students at the university were busy organizing the conference, conservative forces were trying to undermine the event. Right wing forces threatened the universities funding and managed to close the conference to the community. Only students and faculty with valid ID were allowed to attend the event.
After the conference a federal grand jury demanded a video of the event. The university readily turned over the video tape and gave no indication to the organizers or participants that they had any concern about the issues of academic freedom involved.
It was following this conference that CSUF changed their outside speakers policy. The policy before the revolutionary environmental conference had been that campus groups needed no official authorization to hold an event with an outside speaker. But after the conference the university began working on a new policy. According to Ruth Obel-Jorgensen, "they wanted us to go around and get signatures from representatives of eight different departments every time we wanted to have a speaker come to the campus." When Obel-Jorgensen went to CSUF chief of police David Huerta’s office to get a signature so her group could bring Dr. Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian from Haifa University to campus, she came up against some unexpected obstacles. Obel-Jorgensen said the police chief wanted to know who the speaker was, why the Campus Peace group was bringing him, the police chief expressed concerns about the speakers safety, said that he is a controversial speaker, and that someone might try to kill him. "I definitely got the impression that Huerta was making a determination about whether or not he would approve the speaker or not," Obel-Jorgensen said.
Huerta ended up signing the form to allow Pappe to speak on campus, but the incident made Obel-Jorgensen uncomfortable. She asked "Why should the chief of police, the parking department, risk management, and five other departments be able to determine who can speak on campus?" It was announced at today’s press conference that the new outside speakers policy is again under review. Ruth Obel-Jorgensen and other campus activists are optimistic that the new policy will encourage academic freedom and civic participation.
The Campus Peace and Civil Liberties group has requested information from the CSUF police department to determine the nature and depth of this latest round of undercover surveillance. The police have 10 days to respond to the request. The student group is also considering other legal and political action to find out what files are being maintained on students and faculty at the university.
To contact the Campus Peace and Civil Liberties group email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Ruth at (559) 916-7396
To contact Peace Fresno go to www.peacefresno.org