From Raw Story:
When the local offshoot of Occupy Wall Street began a five-month encampment in Austin, Texas last fall, the Austin police assigned at least three undercover officers to infiltrate the group and gather information on potentially illegal actions.
According to the Austin Statesman, court documents and interviews show that the infiltrators “camped with other participants in the movement, marched in rallies and attended strategy meetings.”
They may also have gone further, acting as provocateurs to encourage the use of lockboxes or ‘sleeping dragons’ — lengths of PVC pipe into which protestors insert their arms to make it harder for police to remove them during a demonstration.
Austin Police Detective Shannon Dowell was one of those who infiltrated, and allegedly was the person Austin Occupy knew as “Butch” who not only encouraged use of lockboxes, but purchased (with Occupy Austin funds) the materials, constructed the devices and gave them to Occupiers.
Seven of the Austin group then used them while taking part in a December 12, 2011 effort to block the port entrance in Houston.
The question of the lockboxes came up during a district court hearing in Harris County (where Houston is located) … at which one of those seven, Ronnie Garza, sought to have the charge against him dropped. …
At the hearing, Dowell told the judge that he had could not produce subpoenaed documents because emails he had sent about the operation from his work computer had been deleted and he had lost a thumb drive containing photos when it dropped out of his pocket and fell in the gutter.
Judge Joan Campbell, it was reported, was “frustrated” with Det. Dowell, and
… threatened to dismiss the case unless the required documents and the real names of the two other undercover officers, ‘Dirk’ and ‘Rick,’ are presented at the next hearing on September 5.
Austin PD has confirmed that there were undercover officers in the local Occupy movement, who were actively involved. They say an investigation is taking place, but have not commented on the “lockboxes” allegations. For more details, see also here and here.
From the second link:
(Jim Harrington, Texas Civil Rights Project) says if the allegations are true, APD went too far.
‘It’s perfectly fine to infiltrate and watch but when you cross the line and enable a crime and become part of a crime you’re called a provocateur,’ said Harrington.
Significant in itself, this story (remembering that the hearings start again today, and no judicial decision has yet been made) provides nothing surprising if you’ve followed reports of growing use of more extreme measures by local governments and their “militarized” police force. Remember the pepper spray incidents? The use of “sound cannons”? The frequently employed “kettling” tactic? The multiple arrests of journalists? The newly enacted rules and regulations designed to shut down occupations?
One organization paying close attention to all of this is the American Civil Liberties Union. A couple of weeks ago they released First Amendment Violations to Watch for at the RNC and DNC, in which the conventions are called “constitutional black holes”:
We know that photographers have been having problems all over the country with police harassment, and that demonstrators’ free speech rights have also been under assault.
In specific, the ACLU points to:
1) ‘Free Speech Zones.’ People wishing to express themselves are being sent to distant locations … so they are inaccessible to the audience at the event. …
2) Arrests. People are simply being swept up and arrested, essentially for no reason at all, in order to clear the streets. Cities figure that they can just deal with the ensuing litigation later. …
3) Surveillance. Unjustified surveillance is common, both prior to and during the event. Recent stories suggest that there is a lot more infiltration of protest organizers taking place than we had realized at first. But then there’s also the surveillance that takes place at the event, where often everything is filmed. Even worse are the new restrictions on what you can carry into the demonstrations, which give the police the authority to search you as you go in.
Local governments (with assistance from state and federal agencies) and law enforcement efforts at events like the RNC and DNC, and at public demonstrations and gatherings, do not directly affect most of us, but what’s happening at these kind of public events is surely an indication of how the right to assemble and to free speech is becoming more and more restricted for all of us.
(Poster via Photobucket)