For more FDL coverage of the Gulf Port 7 case see Undercover Austin Detective Enables Houston Felonies and Judge Joan Campbell Is Not Amused.
Since I broke the story of Austin Police infiltration and provocation at Occupy Austin on Firedoglake, the story has become international news. To review, Austin Police Narcotics Detective Shannon G Dowell, along with two other still unidentified undercover agents, infiltrated Occupy Austin under orders that reach all the way to Chief Art Acevedo. While undercover, Dowell (known to activists ‘Butch’) built and delivered lockbox devices (a.k.a. sleeping dragons) to activists to use at the Houston Port Shutdown, resulting in 7 activists facing state felony charges.
Marlo Blue, KPFT: The Occupy effort seems quiet these days but controversy continues to swirl around the group’s efforts and that of some of its members, also officers who allegedly infiltrated that camp. Well, back in December of last year, groups of Occupy members from Austin, Dallas and Houston took part in the National Port Shutdown Day of Action.
Seven activists blocked the main entrance into the Port of Houston by laying in the road and linking arms inside lockboxes (also known as sleeping dragons) which physically linked them together so that police [must] cut them apart. The use of these instruments resulted in these seven being charged with Unlawful Use Of A Criminal Instrument Or Device while others who merely linked arms and legs faced lesser misdemeanor charges.
One of those in attendance has followed the action through his blog and he joins us now. Kit O’Connell. Kit, thank you for joining us.
Kit O’Connell, myFDL Editor: Hi, thanks for having me.
KPFT: Your blog has quickly become one of my very favorites so I’m very pleased to have you on today.
Kit: Thank you!
KPFT: In your blog, you talk about how Austin undercover officers infiltrated this camp. What led you to suspect these officers or was it discovered after the arrests?
Kit: It was discovered after the arrests. Specifically, the arrests of course occurred on December 12 on the Port Shutdown Day. In the first days of February of 2012, the first inkling came in as an anonymous tip to Occupy Austin’s email saying specifically that a person a person who was known to us as Butch was an undercover officer. It didn’t give his full name so it took quite a bit of investigation to find him after that.
KPFT: Now your blog points to a key question in this incident: Why did undercover Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G Dowell provide material support for an activist protest that resulted in them being charged with a felony in Houston, Texas? Did you actually get an answer to that question?
Kit: We did not. It’s unclear to what degree the Austin Police Department knew about this. They’re admitting, even bragging about their use of undercover officers. The police chief has been talking on Twitter about how it kept the people safe to do this but they’re at the same time saying that they weren’t aware of Dowell buying the lockboxes. I find that hard to believe and I would still like some answers.
KPFT: And of course when the arrests took place, you know, in order I guess to keep everyone safe, they also droppped tents on the protesters to I guess to prevent other people from seeing the dangerous protesters inside or…?
Kit: I wish I had a good explanation for those tents. I was present when those went over people and it was one of the scariest moments of my life to see friends of mine vanish under an inflatable fire department tent.
KPFT: That must have been terrifying. I mean, because, you really don’t know what’s going to happen. There is no transparency when a big ‘ol tent is being dropped.
Kit: Exactly. And, I mean, there were no threats from the protesters. At that time, we were being corralled, even trampled Houston Police Department horses to be kept back, well back from the scene where they were, I guess, cutting the lockboxes apart under that tent.
KPFT: Now, you did mention at first of course, Austin Police Department Shannon G Dowell. Was he the only one who infiltrated the Occupy Austin group?
Kit: No, we know there were at least two other officers. They went by Dirk & Rick. Of course Dowell went by Butch. We don’t know their real names yet. The Austin Police Department has been forced to turn that informaton over to the district court in Houston, to Judge Campbell. But they’ve turned it over at this point in camera, meaning that the lawyers and activists involved don’t know their names yet. In a couple weeks, Judge Campbell is going to decide whether that information should be disclosed to the defense or not.
KPFT: And you’re talking about Judge Joan Campbell, is that correct?
Kit: That’s correct.
KPFT: Initially all the charges were dropped but then, of course, Judge Campbell reinstated them. How do you think that that happened?
Kit: That’s actually not correct. Judge Campbell dropped the charges but a grand jury reinstated them. So the district attorney in Houston [Houston D.A. Patricia R. Lykos] reinstated them and the only court that can hear those charges is Campbell’s. So she was forced after dropping the charges to hear them anyway.
KPFT: Well, you’ve learned that, although it seems outlandish, this kind of behavior has a long history of being used to break up activist movements. What do you make of that?
Kit: We know both from the transcripts of this trial and from Freedom Of Information Act requests that the Occupy movement was targeted at a federal level. That it goes all the way up to the Department of Homeland Security. I personally saw their vehicles at some of our protests. So this is a long tradition of squashing dissent in the United States and I think it has to stop.
KPFT: Of course, you know, observing a protest is one thing but planting evidence that actually leads to a federal indictment. Is that standard procedure?
Kit: Unfortunately, it seems like it is standard procedure. We’ve seen it in the NATO 5 arrests, the arrests before the NATO protests this year where infiltrators up there were the main source of evidence against five protesters that remain in jail. So this seems to be standard practice at a lot of police departments and maybe federally, and I think it’s shameful.
KPFT: Of course, you yourself were just targeted recently for a chalk protest in front of the Obama Headquarters. Do you think that the Austin Police Department is stepping up its concern of Occupy members? Are they still watching you?
Kit: We know that they’re still watching our social media. … I was targeted by Austin Police Department but a few weeks before that two members were actually arrested by the Texas Department of Public Safety State Troopers for chalking on public sidewalk near the State Capitol. So we know that both and at the state and the local level that we are being watched by police.
KPFT: What’s happening next, Kit?
Kit: The biggest next thing is September 17 in New York is the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. And it’s going to be three days of exciting events. I’ll be there myself. And then, looking just a little further ahead, October 6 is the one year anniversary of both Occupy Austin and Occupy Houston. So there will definitely be some exciting events coming up for those.
KPFT: It seems like it’s really gone very fast. What a quick year!
Kit: It has.
KPFT: Tell the audience about where they can find your blog.
KPFT: And, of course, that’s the place to go if they want get any more of the updates on this particular case. Is that right?
Kit: That’s correct, yes.
KPFT: Anything else you would like to tell our Houston listeners?
Kit: Just to keep your eyes out because Occupy is far from dead.
KPFT: Kit O’Connell, thank you for joining us today.
Kit: Thanks. It’s good to be here.
KPFT: We have been speaking with Kit O’Connell. He is a blogger and a member of Occupy Austin and we thank him for his time today.
Thanks very much to Marlo Blue and KPFT for giving me such a great opportunity to talk about this case. Later this week I’ll have in depth analysis of the transcripts from the latest court hearing and video from an interview with Occupy Austin members about the infiltration.