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What Flood? 2 weeks of disaster relief in Austin, Texas (#ATXFloods)

7:30 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Collapsed house after Austin Halloween Flood

A condemned houses in the aftermath of the Austin, Texas Halloween 2013 flood.

In the early hours of Halloween 2013, Austin, Texas suffered from a record-breaking flood. Some 1,100 homes were affected by the floods with hundreds of those seriously. Flood response was dangerously delayed by a faulty flood gauge and improper human monitoring of the rapidly rising Onion Creek. Because of the city’s seemingly laissez-faire attitude toward the residents of the floodplain, many remained asleep as water began to pour into their homes:

Onion Creek was transformed into a raging river last Thursday. The Halloween flood set a new record for high water levels in the creek. More than 1,000 homes were damaged and five people died.

At a town hall meeting in the Dove Springs area Tuesday night homeowners had a lot of questions, and one comment caused concern.

‘We relied too much, me, on technology and gauges that were not working properly,’ said Police Chief Art Acevedo.

Flood survivor Norma Jeanne Maloney took to Facebook to tell how she and her partner Dawna Fisher were awakened by rising waters:

Dawna Fisher woke me up to tell me we had a problem. Half asleep I said ‘Say again, what kind of problem?’ ‘We have some water outside and it looks pretty high.’ I went to our front window to see a raging body of water about 3 feet high. I said ‘We need to wake up the kids we are in serious trouble.’ I woke up Ruby and she woke up Texie. I went back into our bedroom where the water had already begun to seep up into our floors, I heard my cat Pickup howling, yes cats howl, under the bed. I managed to grab him and while he clawed me to pieces ( and he has never ever hurt anyone ) I said to him, go right ahead pal, I’m not letting you go. Texie and I shoved him in a bag and zipped it up. …

We all had gathered in the living room wondering if anyone on earth knew what was happening and how we were going to get out. We saw someone trying to escape in their car, it flipped on its side and was washed away. I heard voices and saw a boat in the street and my immediate response was to open the front door to swim to the boat to get help for my family. Do not try this at home, it lets more water in. We began flicking our porch light on and off and were seen. A beautiful tall firefighter walked through the raging water and made it to our window and asked how many lives we had in our home including pets …

He said he would be back. We waited and watched the water continue to rise, our belongings beginning to float about the house. My daughter Ruby asked me if we were going to die. That was the hardest part. Of course not I said, wondering if I just lied to my child and if we were all going to perish. I said guys, I know this isn’t really your thing, but can we pray? Without hesitation we all grabbed hands in a circle and asked that we be spared, at this point the water was past our waists. … The firefighter came back, we heard our neighbors screaming and we said go back for them, they are elderly and need your help. Our neighbors (we know now) were screaming go get them, they have babies! On his last trip to our window they finally managed to get the boat near our living room window against the current and said they were ready to load us. These brave men loaded our family and our animals in the tiny craft and we were transported less than a half mile north up our street where it was completely dry.

As is so often the case in these disasters, city organizations and big nonprofits poured into the neighborhood to offer assistance and ask for cash donations in the immediate aftermath, but it didn’t last. The Red Cross turned up to serve thousands of hot dogs before halting meals a week after the floods. A city-operated shelter opened for a mere 2 weeks. And while the Austin city government offered buyouts to over a hundred of the worst damaged homes, residents are expected to wait months to receive that money:

Three Tricks from The Global 1% Playbook

8:00 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Protestors in gas masks in Gezi Park

Gas Masks in Gezi: This Is What Democracy Smells Like?

Many journalists and experts have cautioned against drawing too many parallels between the Occupy Gezi movement and Occupy Wall Street, or between the Turkish uprising and the uprisings of the Arab Spring, such as the one centered around Egypt’s Tahrir Square. It’s true that Turkey exists at a pivot point between secular and religious that is unique to its history, for all the superficial resemblances that may have to The Handmaid’s Tale fantasies of America’s Christian conservatives. Each people, each culture, is unique and so are its uprisings.

Yet the Turkish people have embraced the Occupy moniker, as well as solidarity with other global movement’s like Spain’s #15M. Likewise, occupiers and activists worldwide have marched and rallied in support of the Turks. Social media technologies enable a global connection and worldwide solidarity.

And whatever the cultural differences, Monday’s attack on the Gezi Park encampment underlines how the Global One Percent use a shared playbook when they suppress those pesky outbreaks of democracy:

1. Free Speech is Filthy

Much like the empty support voiced by Democratic mayors and politicians in the first days of Occupy Wall Street, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo infamously commented “This smells like free speech!” during an early visit to the Occupy encampment at City Hall. Months later, he was complaining to the press about the reek of urine and feces at the site. Occupiers were forced to dismantle the camp late at night, three times a week, for a power-washing that did irreparable damage to the beautiful tiles of the plaza. When it still wasn’t filthy enough, the formerly public bathrooms were permanently locked — even after occupiers cleaned them and painted over graffiti.

A similar scenario played out nationwide. By the end of the encampments, crackdowns were being justified by the “health hazard” camps posed. After police swept in and literally tore these temporary communities to shreds, mainstream media could point to footage of the piles of wreckage as evidence of how Occupy filled public spaces with tons of garbage.

It was no surprise to many of us when, as police massed outside Gezi Park last night, the announced purpose of this assembled army was merely to assist in “cleaning up” the space.

Other than “Get a Job!” the asinine comment occupiers heard shouted most often was “Take a shower!” Our rulers and their media puppets did nothing to discourage this. Modern culture is, if anything, overly neurotic about germs and body odor, so what better way to scare away support than to link free speech with filth? At least we have good company in every filthy peasant who dared to raise a pitchfork against serfdom throughout history.

2. Placate, Never Negotiate

The Democratic leaders of many cities claimed to love their Occupy encampments before using the “filth” excuse to see us evicted. Their support came during those brief moments when it seemed as if Occupy could be twisted in their favor as the Left’s answer to the Right’s Tea Party. That support soon vanished, but their initial statements helped save face, and more importantly, discourage anyone from looking too closely for the coordination behind the crackdowns — coordination now proven through FOIA requests and leaked documents.

Problems with hygiene? Regular use of public spaces is destroying the grass? Any real problem at an encampment could conceivably have been solved in a way other than by an invasion of riot police. Likewise, while leaders will voice their support for this expression of popular democracy, they’ll never take their demands seriously. No matter how many lists of demands Occupy issued, it was never enough — we were simply filthy, bored, worthless hippies.

This policy of placation goes all the way to the top. As long as your country isn’t in imminent danger of invasion by the United States or its allies, the worst thing you can expect when you inevitably crack down on your local version of the global revolution is a light finger-wagging reprimand.

From Reuters:

‘We continue to follow events in Turkey with concern, and our interest remains supporting freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest,’ White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.

‘We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security, and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and a free and independent media. Turkey is a close friend and ally of the United States, and we expect the Turkish authorities to uphold these fundamental freedoms,’ she said.

Our leaders will have plenty of statements about the importance of Democracy to keep them warm at night while the tear gas fills the streets.

Unless of course you’re keeping our warships safe in your harbors, like the repressive regime of Bahrain; put down this playbook, because you can already do whatever you want.

3. When In Doubt, Provoke Read the rest of this entry →

Antonio Buehler & Peaceful Streets: Grand Jury & Sticker Update

12:19 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

For more on this topic, see Antonio Buehler and the Peaceful StreetsThe Peaceful Streets Police Summit, and More Unconstitutional Copwatching Arrests in Austin.

Antonio Buehler at the Texas State Capitol

Antonio Buehler dodged a felony charge, but continues to struggle with multiple misdemeanors and another arrest.

Earlier this month, a Grand Jury in Austin, Texas finally ruled on Antonio Buehler and his allies in the Peaceful Streets Project in a case which stretches back to New Years 2012. Though Buehler will not face felony charges, he and other allies will go to court to answer to several misdemeanors. And Buehler found himself back in jail again after the Grand Jury ruling.

Felony charges date back to this Westpoint graduate’s controversial first arrest on New Years, when he filmed a violent arrest of a driver suspected of DUI and her passenger. Buehler was arrested and accused of spitting on an officer. Though the Austin Police Department refused to release the officers’ dashboard camera footage, other witness footage collected by Buehler seemed likely to exonerate him and it seems the Grand Jury didn’t think this charge would stick.

But Buehler’s first arrest launched him on a personal crusade to fight for police transparency and the constitutionally-protected right of citizens to film the police. Other arrests during the ensuing months were rolled into the investigation. The Grand Jury also made at least a token consideration of whether police had engaged in wrongdoing too.

Unsurprisingly, the cleared police of charges. At the same time, they chose to indict Antonio Buehler on four Class C misdemeanor charges of failure to obey the obey the police. Area activist Sarah Dickerson, arrested while filming one of Buehler’s arrests, was indicted for a single count of the same charge. Norma Pizana, the passenger in the New Years situation, will go to court for a Class A misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.

According to District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg,

The Grand Jury met on six occasions and heard from 13 witnesses, including Antonio Buehler and Officer Patrick Oborski. The felony charges considered by the Grand Jury were tampering with a governmental record by Officer Oborski as well as harassment of a public servant by Antonio Buehler. The Grand Jury also considered whether Officer Oborski committed official oppression.

But according to the official statement on the Peaceful Streets website:

[The Grand Jury] did not hear from either Buehler or Dickerson regarding the post-New Year’s Day incidents, nor any of the Peaceful Streets Project volunteers who witnessed those incidents. … There was no evidence that either Buehler or Dickerson ever obstructed or interfered with an officer engaged in his official duties.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo continues to insist that none of the arrests were motivated by the filming, but by interference with police duties:

The Austin Police Department wants to once again reiterate the fact that simply filming police actions are generally lawful. However, interfering or obstructing a lawful police action, failure to obey a lawful order, and/or resisting arrest is a violation of the law.

Thanks to the Austin Chronicle for their continued coverage.

Buehler’s activism — and arrests — continue. The Austin-American Statesman reports that Buehler was arrested in mid-April for putting Peaceful Streets stickers on the back of city signs near the Travis County Courthouse, part of a major hub of law enforcement activity in downtown Austin — he spent the night in the jail on the same block. The initial charge was for misdemeanor Class C Criminal Mischief, but after a city technician assessed the “damage” to signs at $99, the charge was upgraded to Class B.

Peaceful Streets Project members continue to regularly gather for copwatch events and Know Your Rights trainings.

Read the rest of this entry →

#D12 UPDATE: Gulf Port 7 Accept Misdemeanor Plea Bargain

2:36 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A red tent is erected over a blockade.

The Houston Fire Department places an inflatable red tent over the Gulf Port 7 during their arrest. The seven felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors today.

Corey Williams of Occupy Austin traveled to Houston today with some defendants in the Gulf Port 7 trial. His Twitter feed (@iamed_nc) suggests a tense court room situation, but lawyers ultimately agreed on a deal. Under the plea bargain, all seven defendants will accept the Class B Misdemeanor charge of Obstructing A Roadway. This is the same charge faced by the other participants in the Gulf Port Blockade on December 12, 2011 who did not use the lock box devices.

Undercover Austin Police Officer Rick Reza poses with one of the lockboxes he constructed with other undercover officers.

Previously, the seven defendants faced a charge of Manufacture or Use of a Criminal Device, a state felony that included serious jail time. Additionally, the court commuted the group’s sentences to time served, covering the need for future jail time or paying court costs. The decision is a relief, especially as the case’s sympathetic judge was due to be replaced by a more conservative Rick Perry appointee due to impending retirement.

The arrests occurred during a national day of action at the ports against Goldman-Sachs, organized by Occupy Oakland. The Gulf Port 7 made use of PVC-pipe devices called lock boxes, also known as sleeping dragons, to link their arms together. During the trial, it was revealed that the lock boxes were constructed by three undercover Austin Police Department officers assigned to infiltrate Occupy Austin. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo continues to insist that this was done “for safety” rather than a deliberate act of provocation and entrapment.

Defendant Ronnie Garza told Firedoglake,

We won. We got the charges we originally were expecting and we got 400 pages of emails, texts and embarrassing photos along with the names of 3 undercover officers. We also found the role the fusion centers played in all of this. All that is left is to reveal the name of a fourth undercover we recently found.

According to Ronnie, now that the court case is over the emails and texts released during pre-trial will be released to journalists and the public after the redaction of some sensitive personal details of the named activists.

One of the seven, Eric Marquez, is still imprisoned in the Dallas area, and may face as much as another year in jail, but Corey told @OccupyAustin he hoped this decision makes his situation “a little easier.”

More on Firedoglake about the Gulf Port 7 Case and Austin Police Infiltration

Ronnie Garza interviewed by mainstream media while wearing mock lockboxes.

Ronnie Garza, one of the Gulf Port 7, poses in a fake lockbox at a press conference held at Austin Police Department headquarterslast year.

I’ll continue to update Firedoglake on future developments in this case.

More: Storify of Corey’s Twitter coverage

Read the rest of this entry →

2 More Undercover Officers Revealed in #D12 Gulf Port 7 Trial

12:27 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on the Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Enabled Houston Felonies, Judge Campbell is Not Amused and Austin and Houston Police Coordinated Through Fusion Center.

 

Despite pleas by the Austin Police Department to drop the charges, the trial against the Gulf Port 7 will continue next year.

Rick Reza holds a lockbox at a phallic angle

Undercover Austin Police Officer Rick Reza with his favorite 'dragon sleeve.'

As a consequence, the Austin Police Department were forced to turn photos, emails and documents relating to their investigation over to Judge Joan Campbell. Since APD insists the undercover investigation into Occupy Austin is ongoing, they asked her to suppress the release of the information to the defense. After review by Campbell, a portion of the documents have been released to defense and are making their way to the media.

Campbell’s release reveals that a total of six undercover officers were assigned to monitor Occupy Austin, but three were apparently not involved directly in the lockbox incident where undercover Austin police built lockbox devices. Made from PVC pipes and also known as sleeping dragons or dragon sleeves, lockboxes linked seven protesters together at the December 12, 2011 Port of Houston shutdown. The use of these devices resulted in these occupiers from Austin, Dallas and Houston facing felony charges instead of the misdemeanors brought against those who simply linked their arms and legs.

The first undercover revealed was Shannon G Dowell, who had been forced to testify in the trial’s discovery phase. But now we’ve learned the names of two more — Rick Reza, shown making a phallic gesture with the lockbox in the photo at right. The other, Deek Moore, was apparently the photographer of these rather candid photos of cop antics.

Butch and Rick pose with the lockboxes they made in a garage

Undercover Officers Shannon "Butch" Dowell and Rick Reza with the Lockboxes

Questions remain about what communication occurred between Austin and Houston police and to what degree Texas fusion centers were involved, either the Austin Regional Intelligence Center or the Texas-wide equivalent. Since Campbell chose to keep many of the documents hidden, much will remain unknown about Austin Police involvement before and after December 12. Campbell has seemed to support the defense’s position — first attempting to drop the charges entirely and then pushing for a thorough discovery phase when forced to hear the case by a grand jury. This potential ally will be lost when the trial continues in early 2013 — Judge Joan Campbell is retiring, and her replacement will be selected by Texas Governor Rick Perry.

One of the Gulf Port 7, Iraq Veteran Eric Marquez remains imprisoned. After fundraising by Occupy Austin, Occupy Houston and Occupy Chicago bailed him out of a Harris County, Texas jail where he’d been held since the Port Shutdown, he was imprisoned in Dallas for missing court dates during the initial jail stay. Though he now has National Lawyers’ Guide representation, an apparent determination by the prison industrial complex to keep him inside means he will probably still be behind bars on December 12 2012. According to Garza, charges in Dallas could add up to four years to the years he already faces for his alleged “use of a criminal instrument” at the Port.

Activists Question Austin Police Chief’s Peace Award

Read the rest of this entry →

Overpass Light Brigade Is Challenging Free Speech Restrictions

7:14 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

One Victory, More Conflicts to Come?

Though the Austin Overpass Light Brigade won the right to hold lighted signs over a highway once, it can expect further encounters with police.

Lighted signs on an overpass over a busy highway

Austin Overpass Light Brigade over Interstate Highway 35 in south Austin.

Last Monday, I attended the Austin Overpass Light Brigade’s fourth gathering. As previously reported on Firedoglake, the group had been shut down by police at its previous two attempts. The message on election eve was DO MORE THAN VOTE, and occupiers came prepared for police interference.

First, they modified their signs to be wearable like over-sized necklaces. Next, they distributed misinformation — sharing a false start location and start time at an overpass where they’d been shut down. The real location was spread by word of mouth, at the general assembly, and by people waiting at the fake start location to redirect real help. Activists stood on a part of an overpass over a grassy hill, further forestalling objections that they could drop their worn signs into traffic.

Police took the bait — a half dozen police cars again appeared at the advertised start location, and a dispatcher could be heard reading Occupy Austin’s @OAalerts feed over the police band. Occupiers held their sign at the new location for almost 45 minutes before police arrived, called by an employee with the Texas Department of Public Transportation. The TX DOT employee at the previous attempt would say only ‘no comment,’ but this one was quite talkative. Though he would not give his name, he first cursed at Nathan B, a young teenage volunteer with the Peaceful Streets Project then tried to grab Austin Chronicle photojournalist John Anderson’s notebook while insisting Anderson was breaking the law because media is required, he said, to wear safety vest.

Though we argued with the officer’s insistence that we leave the overpass, the Light Brigade regrouped on the grass by the off ramp while waiting for a phone call to bear fruit. The call was to Debbie Russell, activist with the Texas American Civil Liberties Union. Russell had previous experience negotiating with police to allow displays of banners and signs on highways as long as they aren’t physically attached. She called her contacts at the police. As we watched, more police cars arrived. Some officers looked angry. Then a supervisor arrived, the discussion continued, and all police left.

According to a Facebook post by Debbie Russell:

Yes–well I talked to [Chief Acevedo's] assistant chief and he’s getting TXDot to provide what laws they think are in violation. The issue is the actual lumination of the sign, but according to how I’m reading the law (and how I think APD interprets it, but waiting for final word), such a sign is ok except if it impairs visibility/shines lights into people’s faces as they are driving. So I sent pics of our light brigade, others around the country, specs on the LED light strings – with a little science lesson on wattage/lumens, etc saying these couldn’t possibly be considered a public safety threat — at most they are 2-3x as bright as old fashioned xmas lights and the light is scattered/diffused — not directional. I’m waiting for them to take this to TXDot and circle back.

Though the future legal status of this action is uncertain, the Austin Overpass Light Brigade returned to the overpass. On November 5, thousands of vehicles along a very busy highway saw the message, many honking or cheering enthusiastically.

Overpass Light Brigade is Challenging Free Speech Restrictions
Read the rest of this entry →

#D12 Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Department vs. Houston

1:58 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on the Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Enabled Houston Felonies, Judge Campbell is Not Amused and Austin and Houston Police Coordinated Through Fusion Center.

Pre-Trial Hearing to Resume October 31; Criminal Instrument Charges Proliferate

Ronnie Garza interviewed by mainstream media while wearing mock lockboxes.

Members of the Austin media interview Ronnie Garza while he wears mock lockboxes at Austin Police HQ. (Photo: Kit O'Connell).

The Texas fusion center enabled Austin Police to entrap activists in Houston, but apparently it can’t help settle a dispute when that entrapment comes to light. The Austin Chronicle reports that the Austin Police Department would rather drop the charges against the Gulf Port 7 than reveal their undercover officers:

If the city of Austin – and, importantly, the Austin Police Department – had its way, the charges pending in Houston against a handful of Occupy protesters charged with blocking a road last winter at the Port of Hous­ton would be dismissed. If that happens, the APD will not have to reveal the names of two undercover officers who were part of a three-investigator contingent that worked to keep tabs on the activities of Occupy Austin members; the department would like to keep those two names confidential. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is interested in what the city or APD wants. During a court hearing Oct. 4, Assistant D.A. Joshua Phanco told Judge Joan Camp­bell the D.A.’s office is “prepared to turn over those two names” and to move forward with the case against the Occupiers, including OA member Ronnie Garza.

The seven activists, who came from Occupy groups in Austin, Dallas and Houston, linked their bodies with lockboxes (or ‘sleeping dragons’). As a result, they were charged with using a criminal instrument, an obscure state felony unused since the days of Deep Throat (the pornography, not the informant) when it was invented to prosecute projectionists. The pre-trial hearing continues October 31st, where the names of the two Austin Police Department officers that worked alongside Detective Shannon G Dowell are expected to be revealed. Although the Occupy movment will be better informed about its infiltrators and their methods, seven of its members face prison time in one of the country’s worst state prisons.

One of the seven charged with using a “criminal instrument” is a veteran, Eric Marquez, imprisoned since the December Port Shutdown thanks to complications with previous charges. After Occupy Austin successfully raised thousands in bail to free him from Houston, Dallas immediately imprisoned him again — because he missed court dates in Dallas while jailed in Houston! His bail in Dallas is now $100,000.

If the Gulf Port 7 case goes to trial, the verdict could set an important precedent for activism elsewhere in the state. Though lockboxes have a long history of use in nonviolent civil disobedience, the criminal instrument charges have spread to the Tarsands blockade. Alejandro de la Torre, Maggie Gorry and now Shannon Beebe all now face this charge reports Tar Sands Blockade:

There is also a new and outrageous development in the story. Our brave friend Shannon Beebe is now being charged retro-actively with felonies for using a device to lock arms with Benjamin around a piece of Keystone XL construction machinery as part of a peaceful protest. This is an archaic charge (use of a ‘criminal instrument’) that has literally no case history in the last 30 years. This adds ”insult to injury” with slapping additional FELONY charges against our friend. Yesterday, Shannon was pulled over and arrested because of this new, outstanding warrant for a retro-active felony charge. She’s currently in jail on a $7,500 bail. Its clear that the industry is pursuing a strategy to utilize their deep pockets and corporate lawyers to drain the limited grassroots resources we’ve managed to raise.

Previously on myFDL, Benjamin Franklin reported on his and Shannon’s torture by police at their arrest.

 

#PeacefulStreets Project: More Unconstitutional Copwatching Arrests in Austin

2:04 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on the Peaceful Streets Project: Antonio Buehler and Peaceful Streets, Police Accountability Summit, and The Buehler Bubble

Under your department’s rules officers are free to create a chilling effect upon far more speech (photography/recording is deemed a form of speech for First Amendment protections) than is necessary to achieve a substantial government interest … We believe that if challenged, such a directive would be deemed to be unconstitutional. -National Press Photographers Association General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher in a letter to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo

Police accountability activist Antonio Buehler arrested a third time for filming police; Occupy Austin’s Sarah Dickerson arrested also

Antonio and Sarah embrace as others look on.

Antonio Buehler and Sarah Dickerson embrace outside the Travis County Jail after their copwatch arrest (Photo: Kit O'Connell).

September 20 marked another Peaceful Streets Project copwatch. Though these happen often, this copwatch had a heightened tension due to a recent court decision in the trial of long time copwatcher John Bush. Bush was arrested for filming the police in mid-December of 2011, before Antonio’s New Years Eve arrest which inspired the Peaceful Streets. Despite video evidence showing a lack of interference with police duties, John Bush was convicted for refusing orders that would have put a traffic sign between their cameras and notorious Austin Police Department Officer Jason Mistric. Mistric is known for harassing cyclists and for threatening Occupy Austin members, including myself, with pepper spray in February.

Pixiq has the lurid tale, from Mistric’s Facebook stalking of Bush and his wife (using the porntastic nom de plume Max Rock) through to last week’s conviction for “interfering with public duties:”

A Texas cop watcher was found guilty Wednesday for not moving away while he was video recording a cop on a public street last winter. John Bush was charged with failure to comply with a lawful order when a cop ordered him to stand behind a street sign to continue recording. Austin police officer Jason Mistric claimed he was ‘interfering,’ even though the video shows he was merely standing on a sidewalk, several feet from where officers were making an arrest.

Further complicating matters was the recent Austin Police Department flip-flop on filming distance. As previously reported on Firedoglake, Austin Police Department threatened to require a 50′ to 60′ filming distance from any police situation; this threat was issued after Buehler’s second arrest during a 6th Street copwatch in late August. Last week, APD seemed to back down. KVUE reported, “No restrictions on distance public can stand, film officers:”

Austin police say there are no rules for where you can stand and record what they do. At a news conference in August, they said they’d like anyone filming to stay 50 to 60 feet away, but now there are no restrictions. Of course, it was the Aug. 26 arrest of Antonio Buehler that put this issue in the spotlight. … Police now say it’s up to the officers to decide a safe distance.

To this journalist, this announcement seemed like a victory for first amendment rights. Unfortunately, rather than a message of respect toward our right to film public servents, this was instead a notice to activists — we can arrest you at any time. Early Thursday evening, Twitter’s @chapeaudefee reported that Peaceful Streets’ Joshua “Comrade” Pineda had encountered a tense situation where while copwatching he was threatened to back up or face arrest:

.@Pisce_Incarnate [Comrade] was just harassed by about three officers and DUI officer w/expensive camera. [Police] locked down the sidewalk so Peaceful Streets members could not approach. No reason given why. Told them arbitrary distance to step back. Our teams are debriefing about the situation.

@chapeaudefee is Sarah Dickerson, a member of Occupy Austin who livetweeted during Occupy Boston’s eviction and other events. As a member of OATX Team Chupacabra, she contributed alongside this journalist to Firedoglake’s live coverage of September 17, 2012. Though she’d escaped arrest during tense situations with both Boston and New York police, before the night was out the Austin Police Department arrested her for filming the arrest of Antonio Buehler.

Peaceful Streets Project members use the Lonestar Liberty Bell alert network to communicate by phone. At 1:08am Antonio phoned in an alert — he and his copwatch team were filming a Driving Under the Influence police stop west of the club district; Oborski, the same officer who arrested him for falsified assault charges last New Years’ Eve was running the stop. Five minutes later, another alert came in: Read the rest of this entry →

#D12 Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Coordinated With Houston Through Fusion Center

6:32 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

An angry Jugge Campbell

Judge Joan Campbell explains Brady disclosure to lawyers at Houston district court, September 6 2012 (Photo: John Jack Anderson, used with permission)

For more on the Gulf Port 7 and Austin Police Infiltration of Occupy Austin see Undercover Austin Officer Enabled Houston Felonies, Judge Campbell Is Not Amused, and Kit’s Gulf Port 7 Interview.

Austin Police coordinated felony arrests at the Gulf Port Shutdown with Houston Police through the fusion center known as Austin Regional Intelligence Center.

The pre-trial hearings for the Gulf Port 7 case continued on September 6, 2012; although the Austin Police Department presented the information Judge Joan Campbell requested at the previous hearing, most of it was done in camera – in private, where defense and accused activists could not access it. What was revealed is troubling — that APD coordinated the day’s actions with Houston police through the local Texas fusion center, known as Austin Regional Intelligence Center. This, of course, raises the question of to what degree federal authorities were involved in the entrapment of Occupy activists; I personally witnessed Department of Homeland Security vehicles on the ground at the Occupy Houston encampment on December 12, in addition to photographing men in unknown military-like uniforms who were observing the port shutdown.

Further, it appears that officials involved may have made a decision to withhold information that was requested by Ronnie Garza’s defense attorney. This is in direct violation of Brady disclosure. Campbell’s frustration with the behavior of the state is clear in court transcripts, as she gives lawyers a lesson in this essential aspect of criminal law:

Here’s the thing, y’all – under Brady — y’all can’t make that decision.  Y’all need to scrupulously look through any information that you have. Always. Y’all cannot just rely on, it does not look like anything, that is not what you can do because clearly the result is an Austin police officer authorized … bought the things that made this a felony. That’s what happened. And so that information … is clearly Brady, can be a defense, may make, if this goes to trial, may make a jury find them not guilty and that type of information needs to be carefully passed down through the channels and y’all cannot under Brady make the decision.

The state has brought a Motion To Quash, asking that the names of undercover officers and related documents not be turned over to the defense. Campbell agreed to review the documents in camera and return near the end of September to make a ruling. But she took the time to underline the unusual nature of this case:

Read the rest of this entry →

#D12 Gulf Port 7 Interview: Questions Still Unanswered About Austin Police Infiltration

9:56 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A bearded undercover 'Butch' stands behind Natalie, whose mouth is taped at an NDAA protest.

Undercover APD Detective Shannon 'Butch' Dowell stands next to Natalie Atwater, a member of Occupy Austin facing felony charges in Houston because of using his lockboxes. (Photo: John Jack Anderson / Austin Chronicle, used with permission).

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.

Monday I was interviewed by Marlo Blue of 90.1 KPFT, Houston’s Pacifica station. Below is a transcript, but you can also listen here. The interview begins at 1:55.

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?

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