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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

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Austin Overpass Light Brigade Faces Police Repression (#OATX)

3:04 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Austin Police insist that Occupy Austin is breaking the law when it holds lighted signs on highway overpasses.

I spoke with two occupiers, Corey Williams and Joe Cooper, about their experiences.

The Overpass Light Brigade began in Wisconsin during the “uprising” of 2011, and has since spread to at least 10 other locations. In this simple, nonviolent action, protesters hold lighted signs on the sidewalk of a freeway overpass while night time traffic passes underneath. One of the newest divisions is in Austin, Texas; it formed in early October during Occupy Austin birthday week. Though police drove by the first display, which proclaimed UNFRACK THE WORLD, occupiers successfully held signs for about an hour at an overpass on the south end of the city.

Lighted protest sign: LOVE > $$$

The new Occupy Austin Overpass Light Brigade at Tent City Rising, October 6 2012.

But police shut down a second attempt that week, and another more recent mobilization.  At the second Austin OLB the message began as LOVE > $$$. Police arrived as the group began to rearrange letters to make a repeat of the UNFRACK message. The officers refused to cite what laws were being broken, but expressed concern that signs could be dropped from the overpass railing on which the activists were holding the display. While regrouping, the Light Brigade consulted with long-time Austin activist Debbie Russell who referred to a previous consultation with Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo:

[Y]ou can’t have signs that when holding, are “over” the roadway–you have to hold them inside the railings such that if it was dropped, it falls on the sidewalk and not below on the freeway. Some officers know this, some don’t, but Acevedo has very specifically said this is the case and a few years ago … he gave this mandate to his officers so they’d know. They’re out of practice tho.

Another data point: one afternoon a month at 4:20pm, the Texas Hemp Campaign displays a cannabis legalization banner held on the sidewalk of a busy overpass. Though sometimes monitored closely by police, they allow the display to continue.

If the issue was the danger posed by signs, activists decided to try yet another approach. The third attempt occurred on Saturday, October 27. It was the closest Saturday to Halloween, a night when police are typically busy downtown patrolling the club district for drunken costumed revelers. It was on a similar busy weekend closest to Halloween in 2011 that police made dozens of arrests at Occupy Austin’s standing encampment. In keeping with the symbolism of this anniversary, approximately a half dozen squad cars were waiting.

The message on that night was to be LOVE > FEAR, a response to recent hate crimes against queer people and people of color. This time, the Overpass Light Brigade used an overpass at St. Johns on Interstate Highway 35. This location is across the street from the abandoned Home Depot we attempted to encamp during the occupation’s birthday. Most importantly, this overpass is completely fenced in. It would be impossible to drop signs onto traffic.

Immediately, officers arrived and attempted to shut them down but the display continued for about twenty minutes. While part of the group held the signs, others demanded police cite a specific law that was violated. As the perceived threat of arrest grew more immediate, the OLB took down their signs and waited as police returned to squad cars to look up the law. Eventually, with the help of a Texas Department of Transportation employee summoned to the scene, they cited a portion of the Texas Transportation Code which applies to SIGNS ON STATE HIGHWAY RIGHT-OF-WAY. This law, a class C misdemeanor when broken, says:

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#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 →

The Antonio Buehler 60′ Bubble (#PeacefulStreets)

10:38 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

For more on this story see Antonio Buehler and the Peaceful Streets, and Antonio Buehler Arrested Again For Filming the Police.

Peaceful Streets’ Police-Transparency Activists Defiant After Second Arrest, Plan Thursday Night Mass Copwatch

Do police need a 60-foot bubble of safety from activists with cameras? That’s the claim Austin Police Department is making in the wake of the second arrest of a police transparency activist.

Antonio flashes a peace sign while exiting the Travis County Jail.

Flanked by allies, Antonio Buehler exits the Travis County Jail last Sunday after his second arrest (Photo: Sarah Dickerson @ChapeauDefee, used with permission)

Antonio Buehler’s first arrest came last New Years Eve, when this Iraq Veteran and Westpoint graduate was accused of spitting on a police officer while filming a traffic stop turned brutal. This arrest inspired the formation of Peaceful Streets, which gave out 100 digital cameras to community activists at a police transparency summit earlier this year. Saturday night on one of their regular downtown copwatch outings, Buehler was singled out of a group of four for arrest.

Now Austin Police Department claims they may institute a new policy requiring cameras to keep 50 feet or more away from police at all times according to KEYE TV, claiming that the presence of cameras agitated the arrestee:

“The individual became really agitated to the point the officer had to use more force,” [Commander Troy] Gay said.

Now APD wants a policy change. They say people should be allowed to exercise their first amendment right, but they need more distance to do their job.

“We would like them to be 50 or 60 feet,” Gay said.

Most mainstream media outlets are repeating APD’s claims that Buehler’s presence interfered with arrest. Buehler tells a very different story in Pixiq:

On Saturday night, police responded to an incident where a man had pushed his fiancée down to the ground. It turned out, the man had a warrant, which is why he was arrested. Buehler and other activists began recording the interaction.

“She walked up to us and I told her we were filming for her safety and she hugged me and walked over to her fiancée and told him,” Buehler said.

“He looks at me and gives me the thumbs up sign.”

But as two cops led the man away and Buehler and another activist began following, a third cop arrived and began ordering “Mr. Buehler” to back away.

“I was standing more than 25 feet away,” Buehler said.

While the cop kept ordering Buehler to back away, the handcuffed suspect began threatening Buehler by saying he is going to kick his ass.

The cop, who Buehler believes may be named “Berry,” then asks the suspect whether Buehler was harassing him. The suspect says yes, which is when the cop made the arrest.

The American Civil Liberties Union firmly believes You Have Every Right to Photograph That Cop. I asked Dotty Griffith, Public Education Director of the ACLU of Texas how that applies to the Lone Star State in particular:

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The Crackdown on Chalk (#Chalkupy Austin)

12:53 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

“No reasonable person could think that writing with chalk could damage a sidewalk.” Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Mackinney v. Nielsen 69 F.3d 1002, 1995)

What’s happening in this country?

Two activists in handcuffs with State Troopers on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.

Audrey Steiner and Corey Williams are processed on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol after being arrested for chalking a public sidewalk nearby (Photo: Kit O'Connell, all rights reserved).

I know this is a question we ask frequently on these pages. Every day, some new offense against basic freedoms comes to light, further shaking faith in the basic principles of our constitution. I thought I was jaded, but what happened in Austin last Thursday shook me — not just because chalk merits police response, but because of the intensity and overwhelming force being used to strike at one of the simplest, most transient forms of expression possible.

By now most of us have heard of the crack down on chalk which occurred in Los Angeles in July, when Occupy Los Angeles passed out chalk to a monthly Artwalk event and the gathering found itself under attack by violent riot police retaliation. Activists decided to pass out chalk at the Artwalk in the first place because of almost two dozen arrests for chalk in public places just in Los Angeles. Not a single one of these arrests has resulted in charges.

From an Occupy Los Angeles press release:

Participants of Occupy LA’s Chalk Walk wonder why the Los Angeles Police Department continues to arrest them for chalking when the City Attorney has declined to prosecute any of the chalking arrests.

One Occupier wonders, “If the so-called crime is not worth prosecuting, then is it worth making the chalk arrests in the first place?” and then adds, “LAPD harasses us with these arrests to intimidate us.”

Occupy activists say that LAPD had made nearly twenty arrests for chalking related to Occupy but has failed to make chalking arrests at non-occupy events including an event the Mayor handed out boxes of yellow chalk to be used on the “sidewalks,driveways, and any blank canvasses” including the streets of Sunset Blvd in traffic at night for a fundraiser for Lance Armstrong’s art campaign, “Hope Rides Again”, sponsored by Nike.

The crack down is not limited to Los Angeles, but appears to be occurring nationwide. Activists in Orlando recently won a lucrative lawsuit against the city for wrongful arrest in a chalk-related arrest of an Occupy Orlando member. Occupy New Orleans members fled from police during their chalkupy event. While the crackdown may be political in nature, not just activists are getting caught up in it — a mother in Richmond, Virginia faces 50 hours community service because her daughter chalked some rocks, and two teens in a Philadelphia suburb were ticketed for drawing a sea turtle and a whale in chalk. Which brings us to Austin, where two people were arrested Thursday and face uncertain charges for expressing their right to free speech.
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Peaceful Streets — Austin Police Accountability Summit (VIDEOS)

1:12 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

See also: Antonio Buehler and the Peaceful Streets. Links to additional summit videos can be found throughout this post.

On July 14, I attended the Peaceful Streets Project Police Accountability summit. This all day free conference brought about 200 diverse members of the Austin, Texas community together to learn about police abuse and create new ways to fight it.

Though the summit had its genesis from the mistreatment and false accusations against Antonio Buehler after he filmed police on New Years Eve 2011, Buehler himself stayed in the background for much of the day, letting other key project leaders and volunteers be the center of attention. Even when telling his own story, he made it part of a larger panel on victims of police abuse, seen to the right. This let the larger problem — the lack of transparency — show through. For example, it is clear that ‘spitting on police’ has become one of the go-to false accusations when cops need to pin something on an uncooperative suspect or political enemy.

The host of the police abuse panel, Debbie Russell, is a longtime Austin activist who was arrested at the eviction of Occupy Austin. In another highlight of the day, she was joined on stage by Scott Crow, anarchist author of Black Flags and Windmills, for a discussion of alternatives to calling the police and how they’ve been put into place at the downtown cooperative Ecology Action. Even lunch time was thought provoking, giving attendees a chance to tour a vehicle which was customized with cameras, sophisticated recording equipment and even a smoke screen.

Of course, the central event of the day was the formation of a new cop watch group and the gift of 100 cameras to community activists dedicated to filming the police.

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