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#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

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#D12 Gulf Port Action, One Year Later

4:17 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on the Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Enabled Houston FeloniesJudge Campbell is Not AmusedAustin and Houston Police Coordinated Through Fusion Center and 2 More Undercover Officers Revealed

Reflections on Gulf Port Action

One year ago today, Occupy Oakland declared a National Day of Action against Goldman-Sachs.

A mounted officer points and shouts as they attack a crowd of activists at the Port

Mounted Houston Police Department officers at the Port of Houston on December 12

The action would center on the Port of Oakland, which they shut down for over two days. Solidarity actions around the country took place at other ports, at Walmart distribution centers, and Goldman-Sachs offices in New York City.

About 200 occupiers from around Texas gathered at Occupy Houston’s encampment, Tranquility Park, and from there traveled to the Port of Houston where we blockaded the main entrance. There were twenty arrests.

I wrote about the Gulf Port Action on my blog, Approximately 8,000 Words and what it was like to step out onto the road around the port and see an army of law enforcement waiting for us:

l felt a little overwhelmed as we jumped from the car at the port, seeing a massive collection of law enforcement might. There were helicopters overhead, a couple dozen officers lining the street including mounted police on horses, and, behind a fence inside the port itself, we could see dozens more including a bus for arrests and the sheriff and SWAT team.

I’d never been to the port before, and there was a palpable sense of almost Cyberpunk-level desolation. The air smelled as bad as you imagine it does in a William Gibson book. At first there were few of us, but more and more began to get dropped off in waves until we had a couple hundred protesters at the peak, finally outnumbering the police. We chanted and spoke with a few members of the mainstream media that had managed to get inside. Then, suddenly, everyone — police and occupiers alike — were running.

Though I did not intend to do more than chant, observe, and livetweet, in the intense response to the blockade I found myself helping form a human wall to keep occupiers from being trampled by horses. Though I have attended many other activist events, including eluding a potentially violent arrest inside Chase headquarters at the September 17, 2012 anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, these attacks by police were the most intense I have personally faced. Despite our efforts, a young woman near me was kicked in the stomach by a mounted officer’s steel-toed boots while a hoof stomped the shoe of Corey Williams, an Austin livestreamer (whose footwear was fortunately also reinforced). And then came the most psychologically violent act of the day: the ‘one percent tent.’ In an image that quickly went viral (and contributed to Oakland continuing its blockade into a second day), Houston Fire Department firefighters assembled a red inflatable tent over the activists to hide arrests from sight.

A Direct Attack on Corrupt Capitalism

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#Occupy Votes (Updated 2:25pm PST)

1:13 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Tuned Out Hippies?

Since the Occupy movement began, many have attempted to position the group in opposition to electoral politics. Occupy in its purest form is nonpartisan, and since the beginning of the movement this has been a source of criticism.

If we want to really make a difference, we were told time and again, we should organize similarly to the Tea Party and begin to field candidates for office. When occupiers protested Mitt Romney or other hyper-conservative politicians, they’d be accused of being in bed with Barack Obama. If the movement protested neo-liberals like Obama, we were accused of being traitors to all that was good in the world because we obviously wanted Romney to win (Carnacing is not limited to blogs). Most of all, occupiers got accused of being disconnected from what their critics perceive to be real politics — we were lazy hippies who didn’t understand how the world works and worst of all we don’t vote.

Spelled out in lights: DO MORE THAN VOTE

Austin Overpass Light Brigade on November 5, 2012

Occupy and many allied activist groups stand in opposition to the idea that electoral politics should be the focus of American political engagement. It is especially opposed to the idea that just voting out one plutocrat and replacing him with a new one will fix our problems — even if that new plutocrat is a woman, from a racial minority, or practices an alternative religion or sexuality. Its ranks are full of activists who supported Obama with hours of hard work in the run-up to the 2008 election, only to “wake the eff up” over the succeeding years and realize real change doesn’t come from far-away leaders.

It’s my experience that occupiers are far more engaged with mainstream politics than mainstream America, which for the most part unthinkingly abstains from participating at all. While the average American simply does not vote, the question of whether to vote and how was an important concern to OWS. Members of Occupy Chicago spent hours in a heated debate over whether it was ethical to burn voter registration cards as a form of protest. Occupiers created street theater around the election: Occupy Chicago members took coffins to the Obama headquarters and launched Revs4Romney. On election day, Occupy the Stage in New Orleans protested the fact that Louisiana is one of eight states which disallow write-in candidates for President by performing a puppet show about the 2-party system at a polling place then accepting symbolic write-in votes (I voted via Twitter for Vermin Supreme). Occupiers held public debate-watching parties, helped Anonymous trend the hashtag #StopNDAA and livetweeted the elections.

Occupy groups also became closely involved in local issues at multiple elections since last September. Here in Austin, one Occupier made an unsuccessful bid for city council, while others became involved in the successful bid to make the city council itself more accountable. Austin will change from one of the country’s only completely at-large city councils to one where each council member represents part of the city.  The Occupy AISD working group fought new in-district charter schools by, in part, helping to unseat charter-supporter Sam Guzman. His replacement, Dr. Rev. Jayme Mathias, will be the first openly gay member of Austin’s school board. One of the Gulf Port 7, Ronnie Garza, is featured in the video at the top of this post. Another, Remington Alessi, ran for sheriff as a Green Party candidate. San Antonio’s Meghan Owen took 1.5% of the vote for the Greens in a bid to unseat NDAA-supporting Democrat Representative Lloyd Doggett.

Of course, many see Elizabeth Warren as a massive win for the goals of Occupy Wall Street.

An Ethical Dilemma At the Voting Booth

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#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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#D12 Gulf Port 7: Judge Joan Campbell Is Not Amused With Detective Shannon Dowell

12:34 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

For more on the Gulf Port 7 and Austin Police Department infiltration of Occupy Austin, see Undercover Austin Narcotics Detective Enabled Houston Felonies.

Judge Joan Campbell has threatened to dismiss the case unless these documents are presented along with the names of two other undercover officers at the next hearing, scheduled for September 5 2012.

A black and white sketch of a bearded, white haired man.

An artist's rendition of Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G Dowell when he infiltrated Occupy Austin as "Butch." Butch built and delivered lockbox devices to Austin activists, resulting in 7 felony charges at the Port of Houston on December 12, 2011 (Image: Anonymous).

Yesterday I wrote about the sworn testimony of Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G Dowell, who revealed that he operated undercover at Occupy Austin with at least 2 other officers. Dowell, or “Butch” as occupiers knew him, didn’t just spy on the group; he built and delivered devices known as lockboxes to Austin activists. These devices, also called sleeping dragons, physically link protesters together and resulted in seven activists receiving felony charges for blocking the entrance to the Port of Houston. One activist, Iraq veteran Eric Marquez, has been in jail since December as a result of these charges.

On Monday, August 27 2012, Dowell appeared before Judge Joan Campbell of the 248th District Court in Houston. Yesterday, I quoted the part of the transcript from that discovery hearing where Dowell admits the investigation has ties all the way to Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo. Today I want to go deeper into those transcripts, and show just how incompetent (or at least behind the times) Austin Police Department appears.

It’s important to note that Judge Campbell initially dismissed all charges against arrested activists before being forced by a grand jury to try the seven felony cases. Her sense of frustration with Austin Police Department behavior is palpable in the written transcripts, and eyewitnesses tell me the courtroom scene was very tense.

Though the illustration at right shows Butch as he appeared at Occupy Austin, he was clean-shaven and short-haired at his most recent court appearance.

Here’s what the court asked Dowell to provide:

That subpoena asked him to bring with him any police reports, I assume texts, phone calls, among him — between him and any other person, to bring with him all receipts and evidence of money spent and/or received by him during his participation in the investigation of the occupy the port movement or the investigation that resulted in the prosecution that we’re here on.

But Shannon Dowell only brought a few pages of printed notes and a USB drive — which he lost on the way to court!

Detective Dowell: I brought a thumb drive that had photos that I lost en route.

Judge Campbell: You lost it in and or out? What does that mean?

DD:  En route to here.

JC: En route?

DD: Yes, while I was coming here.

JC:  So it fell out of your car?

DD: Probably my pocket. I would imagine it’s in the gutter in front of the hotel I was in.

After asking Dowell what hotel he stayed at, Campbell presses him on the contents of the thumb drive:

Detective Dowell: There’s photos — what they call the lockboxes and the person that I delivered them to that was involved in Occupy Austin, I delivered those lockboxes to this person and it was a photo of her.

Judge Campbell: Was that a police officer, that person?

DD: No.

JC:  Or a police officer of any type?

DD:  No.

JC: And is there anything else that was on that drive that you lost?

DD: An electronic copy of that right there [Dowell's printed notes] that I gave you. I believe that’s all.

But what about the emails? Where did they go?

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#D12 Gulf Port 7: Undercover Austin Narcotics Detective Enabled Houston Felonies

1:19 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A red tent is erected over a blockade.

The Houston Fire Department places an inflatable red tent over protesters using lockbox devices built by Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G. Dowell (Photo: December 12, 2011 at the Port of Houston by Kit O'Connell)


Update

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?

That’s the question I want answered after speaking with Ronnie Garza, a member of Occupy Austin who faces felony charges resulting from actions at the Port of Houston on December 12, 2011. On this day, the National Port Shutdown day of action, seven activists from Austin, Dallas, and Houston blocked the main entrance into the port by laying in the road and linking arms inside lockboxes (also known as sleeping dragons), which physically linked them together so that police 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. I was present at this day of ‘Gulf Port Action‘ and wrote about it on my blog, Approximately 8,000 Words.

But it turns out that a secret undercover agent with the police department had infiltrated the activist group, and he is the person who acquired the materials and built the “lockboxes” for this action. Further, apparently other members of the police department were also involved in enabling an action which, but for the undercover agent’s intervention, might never have been classified as a felony.

In addition to Garza, other members of the Gulf Port 7 include Iraq veteran Eric Marquez, who has been stuck in jail since December and Remington Alessi, a Green Party candidate for Houston sheriff. If convincted, they face up to two to ten years in state prison.

The cases were brought before Judge Joan Campbell of the 248th District Court who dismissed all charges due to lack of evidence. However, the felony charges were later reinstated by a Houston grand jury. Garza told me that the latest development of uncovering an infiltrator came to a head at a discovery hearing on Monday, August 27, but is the result of months of hard work by many including his attorney, National Lawyers Guild’s Greg Gladden. Photos of the officer at Occupy Austin have been obtained by Gladden.

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