The Daily Californian Online

Judge Denies FBI Dismissal From Berkeley Raid Lawsuit

By Michael Garcia
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Category: News > City > Courts

A federal judge denied a motion Monday to dismiss the FBI from a lawsuit filed by two Berkeley community organizations whose computers and storage devices were seized in an August 2008 raid.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that plaintiffs Long Haul Inc. and East Bay Prisoner Support can sue the investigative bureau for its role in the raid, which was conducted by the bureau's Joint Terrorism Task Force in coordination with UCPD and the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.

"Having considered the parties' pleadings and the relevant legal authority, the Court hereby grants in part and denies (the federal defendants') motion to dismiss," White wrote in the ruling.

On Aug. 27, 2008, officers raided the Long Haul Infoshop, located at 3124 Shattuck Ave., as part of an investigation into a series of threatening e-mails that were allegedly sent to nine UC Berkeley faculty members from the shop.

The University of California, which is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit due to UCPD's involvement, did not seek a dismissal from the case.

The shop operated an unmonitored computer space open to the public, as well as private offices used to publish Long Haul's Slingshot newspaper. East Bay Prisoner Support, a prisoner rights group unaffiliated with Long Haul, maintained an office on the first floor of the building.

During the raid, officers removed all computers from the building, including those located in the locked Slingshot and East Bay Prison Support offices, according to the documents.

In a complaint filed on Jan. 14, the plaintiffs alleged that the FBI and two agents working for the bureau violated the groups' First Amendment U.S. Constitutional rights of freedom of speech and Fourth Amendment rights protecting unreasonable search and seizure.

Additionally, the groups alleged that the seizure of the computers and storage media violated the federal Privacy Protection Act, which grants extra protection from seizures to individuals using equipment to publish newspapers.

However, White also ruled that while the complaint lacked the support needed to show the First Amendment was violated, the plaintiffs could amend their original complaint to include such support.

White added that the plaintiffs need to claim that the defendants conducted the raid because of the plaintiffs' political views in order for the allegation to stand.

"On the First Amendment, (White) said we could state a claim if we could show that the raid was motivated by Long Haul's political views," said Michael Risher, a staff attorney for American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which is helping represent the plaintiffs.

However, White ruled the plaintiffs could sue for alleged Fourth Amendment and Privacy Protection Act violations, agreeing that the two-month delay between the discovery of the threatening e-mails and the raid undermined the defendants' argument of a necessary immediate seizure.

Risher said as long as one of the amendments has been violated, his case will still be strong.

"The judge said that if what we said happened really did happen, it violated the constitution," he said. "And that's really the heart of our case."

Both sides of the case will meet and request information from each other to be used in an eventual trial, according to Risher.

"I think (White's ruling) is very positive," Risher said. "Our case is going forward ... and as in all litigation we will find out what exactly the facts are. We think in the end the court will rule that the government violated the U.S. Constitution and the federal Privacy Protection Act."

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