Oakland Police Spy on Anti-War Group

The Oakland, Calif., Police Department admits it infiltrated a group of anti-war protestors, and managed to put two of its undercover officers inside the peace group. The American Civil Liberties Union is condemning the Oakland police and other law enforcement agencies for spying on demonstrators.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Here in California, some local police agencies are under fire for spying on political protestors. The case that's caused the biggest stirs is in Oakland, where undercover officers infiltrated an anti-war group. They even got elected as leaders to that peace movement.

NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES: Three years ago in April, about 500 people gathered at the port of Oakland to block the gates of a company protestors claimed was shipping war supplies. There were conflicting reports as to why police fired non- lethal beanbags, wooden dowels, and sting ball grenades at the protestors - injuring dozens, including several longshoremen who were innocent bystanders. Longshoreman Kevin Wilson was there.

KEVIN WILSON: They shot one guy point blank in his shoulder with one. This guy here that's holding his back, they shot him in the back with one. He has broken skin and, you know, it's swollen. It's just, police just went nutty, you know?

GONZALES: A month later, protestors returned to the port to demonstrate again, only this time - unknown to them - their ranks had been infiltrated by two undercover Oakland police officers. That fact was uncovered by the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit claiming excessive use of force.

During discovery on the way to court, the ACLU was given recorded testimony of then Captain Howard Jordan, who explained to the police board of review how the department could improve its long-term intelligence gathering.

HOWARD JORDAN: It's not that difficult. San Francisco does it, Seattle - a lot of large agencies do it, and we need to make sure that the next time something like this happens that we're way ahead of the curve. We're in there...

GONZALES: Jordan testified that his officers were not only in there at the port of Oakland protests, they were actually influencing the group's actions.

JORDAN: You don't need to have some special skill to be able to infiltrate these groups. You know, two of our officers were elected leaders in an hour on May 12 - being with that group. So if you put people in there from the beginning, I think we'd be able to gather the information and maybe even direct them to do something that we want them to do.

GONZALES: In a subsequent legal deposition, Captain Jordan - who is now the deputy chief of police - said that the two Oakland undercover police officers were elected by the protestors to plan the route of the march and decide where it would end up. Jordan was unavailable for comment, but a spokesman for the Mayor's Office said new guidelines prohibit this kind of undercover work.

The Oakland case is one of several in a new report published by the ACLU, documenting cases of police surveillance.

In Fresno County, a sheriff's deputy spied on an anti-war group. And in Contra Costa County, deputies monitored a grocery workers' labor rally. Both agencies acknowledge their surveillance efforts.

Mark Schlosberg wrote the ACLU report.

MARK SCHLOSBERG: People have a right to engage in political activity without fear of governmental interference. And law enforcement is not allowed to monitor, infiltrate, or compile information about political activity in the absence of reasonable suspicion of a crime.

GONZALES: The ACLU has called on California Attorney General Bill Lockyer to issue specific and direct guidelines to local law enforcement agencies to prevent police from spying on legitimate political activity. A spokesman for Lockyer, Tom Dresslar, says the attorney general will respond.

TOM DRESSLAR: You know, you cannot monitor the activities of groups of individuals just because they espouse a particular political viewpoint.

GONZALES: As for the anti-war protestors, an attorney for the infiltrated group says no one has any recollection of the officers.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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