Friday, January 7, 2011

North Side Anarchist Sued by Richmond's Police Department, Finds Defender in the ACLU

Listen to the story here

On Tuesday, Richmond Police department filed a complaint against Mo Karn, who they refer to as "a known and admitted anarchist" suing her for the documents they had released to her under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

In the complaint Police Chief Bryan T. Norwood said:

"In the present circumstances, the dissemination of these documents in any form to the public jeopardizes and endangers Richmond Police officers and citizens. Specifically, this information includes tactical plans for what police do in emergency situations."

RPD's spokesmen Gene Lepley told WRIR News in a phone call "We (RPD) does not comment on cases awaiting trial." But WRIR News had the opportunity to take a look at the files Karn posted to an internet client before she received the summons.

The files are manuals explaining various branches of the police force including the K-9 Unit, Crowd Management,Homeland Security Units, Property Crimes, Detectives and mounted, bicycle and Segway cops. They include requirements for different divisions and the training, evaluations, reports, attire, grooming and equipment that are part of each job. The documents include the first part of the city's Emergency Operations Plan which explains how the Chief of Police will alert local personnel and oversee public works in a major public emergency.

Karn is an "admitted anarchist" who is part of the Wingnut Collective in Richmond's north side and participates in a program called "CopWatch", where police are observed and recorded on the job. She said:

"My first thought is that this makes this situation not about the documents, but about the criminalization of anarchist in this country that has been around probably since its existence"

Karn said they found out Angela Harrison was the FOIA contact for RPD and contacted her for information.

"We started contacting her, then an e-mail conversation went on for a couple months whittling down the information we were requesting."

She said the documents are for the Cop Watch program.

"The police in general, I'd say, do not have a positive reaction to the presence of cop watch at any of their scenes or times when they are detaining people."

Fellow CopWatch participant Eric Scott explained why they wanted the documents:

"a lot of times the police officers don't follow the protocols that we know of, so we thought it was in our interest to know what the protocols were so we could see when they were doing that on a broader scale."

Scott said the anarchists followed the procedures for getting the police manuals.

"In the official response to the FOIA request, they detail how they have 7 days to go through and basically censor the document to keep information from getting out to the public that they don't want to get out and they did all that; but, apparently, some of the info they didn't want us to have still got out anyway."

And they haven't been given a cease and desist order from the RPD at this point. Karn said:

"We’re not compelled to do anything until the court compels us."

Another Cop Watch participant, named Dovi, said either way the case goes, the character of the RPD will be apparent.

"I don't think, one way or another, we, as anarchists, loose this one, If we win, we win a court case against the city, and if we lose, it just demonstrates the nature of the police state in which we are living and it shows they will go to any limits to repress information."

But the anarchist collective won't stand in court on it's own. Kent Willis Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia said the ACLU is going to take the case.

"In many years, dealing with multiple FOIA issues, i've never seen one where the government attempted to retrieve documents it had tried to send out."

And Willis said the anarchists' case is supported by the country's highest court.

"There are strong legal precedents here that go up to the Supreme court. Famous cases like the pentagon papers that involve the government release of info and then trying to censor the info after it got out. And over again, the US supreme court has said "once the gov makes information public, it cant then attempt to retrieve that info, it belongs to the public at that point, and thats what the first amendment is all about."

He said RPD's motivations for suing Karn are unclear at this point based on established laws.

"Its hard to understand exactly what the city of richmond is thinking. The legal precedents are very much against them, also, because the info is already on the internet, there is no practical way to get it back anyway."

Willis said if this is an attempt by the RPD to target anarchists or this particular group's police monitoring activities, a court case is ill advised.

"Under the laws in our country, and in the way the courts act, the law applies the same to all. Its likely to backfire on someone if they think identifying someone by political party or affiliation will sway the court one way or another."

Mo and the Wing nut collective continue to keep to documents available online from a link in their blog.

What case the police have against the disclosure of these documents is yet to be seen but with the ACLU on board and media attention from the Daily Show to the Washington Examiner picking up the story, the case will either be dead in the water or the police will have to explain their point of view in court.

For Richmond Independent Radio News, I’m Brad Kutner with help from Caroline Jackson.

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