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#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.

 

#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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Texas Occupies Independence Day

1:43 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A street march in Austin. Banners: We the People / Workers of the World Occupy. Sign: Choose Love Over Fear

The #OccupyJ4 March on Cesar Chavez in downtown Austin (Photo: Kit O'Connell).

Yesterday, I spent all day with my favorite radical activists, people I’ve come to think of as family, occupying Independence Day. But this wasn’t simply a gathering of the usual Occupy Austin core members —  this was a coalition of occupiers from around the state, along with representatives of several other activist groups from Iraq Veterans Against the War to Texans for Accountable Government. The weather was mild for a Texas summer with a breeze that provided actual relief, and the trees on the beautiful grounds of the Texas State Capitol provided plenty of shade. We had good food, 16 different teach-ins, music, inspiring speeches, and a beautiful street march.

A state trooper admonishes a member of IVAW for her chalk art.

Texas State Trooper Craig Cummings accuses IVAW's Lindsey of Criminal Mischief (Photo: Kit O'Connell)

It might have been a perfect day except for the interference of the Texas State Troopers, who guard the capitol. The grounds are used almost continuously by tourists, workers on their lunch breaks, quinceañeras and weddings, and guerilla dance parties, not to mention activist groups. Once, antiwar protesters pitched tents there for continual occupations in support of peace. Then, about a month after Occupy events began in Austin, the State Preservation Board, the group which oversees the building and its environs (Governor Rick Perry is a member) changed the rules for its use. Now tents are banned, despite their legitimate use as tools of free speech; these same regulations led to Troopers claiming last year that we could only be there for three hours at a time without a permit. Though they backed down and now allow us to assemble for as long as we choose, they are determined to harass us and make that assembly difficult.

In fact, it was the same Sergeant Craig Cummings who appears in the above linked videos who was responsible again yesterday. The harassment began when we erected food tables. Mac, a member of the Occupy Austin OccuQueers, told me about how the table — and he and others at it — were surrounded by ten Troopers with hands on their holsters. Later, they watched members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War use chalk on the sidewalk, a feature of previous ‘die-in’ style protests, before approaching, collecting IDs and arbitrarily giving one member, Lindsey, a warning for ‘Criminal Mischief.’ Later, they told IVAW and others that ‘unattended signs’ were against the law, and that banners spread on the grass must have people sitting on them at all times or their owners would face legal action. Water pistols (even neon-colored or animal-shaped), he said, when aimed at anyone, might merit the use of deadly force. That evening, Christopher Michael (a.k.a. @OccupyURCapitol) began erecting a tent during our permit hours, Troopers approached him and asked him to take it down, then arrested him when he hesitated in doing so. After 24 hours in custody, he was released without charge.

I’ve received negative criticism when I speak out against this behavior by agents of the 1% and the police state. It’s true that Austin’s police, whether APD or Troopers, are not as violent or corrupt as elsewhere — we haven’t dealt with stop and friskactivists shot by tear-gas cannisters, or pepper spray assaults on queer folk. I don’t think this is an excuse: any abuse of police power is inexcusable. I think it’s a sign of how far our free speech rights have fallen that these excuses are made — it’s not as bad as it could be. That’s true — police could be firing on us with live ammunition, too, but does that mean we shouldn’t demand our right to peaceably assemble regardless of whether the reaction is violence or arrests and threats?

While I want money out of politics, and basic human needs met for all people, I continue to believe that free speech itself is enough of a reason to protest. When we take the streets, I’m happy to march for independence, for gay rights, against the NDAA, or any other cause. For me, though, the core of almost any action is our absolute right to freedom of speech.

Sharing Knowledge, Forging Connections

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