When Occupy protesters chained themselves together with PVC pipes outside the Port of Houston in December, they might have expected to get arrested and perhaps even charged with misdemeanors for disturbing the peace, but they did not imagine getting felony charges and attorney Greg Gladden says they did, and the resulting charges are wrong."Entrapment is one term," Gladden said. "Police misconduct might be another term."
"There is no probable cause to be charging these people with felonies for this free speech demonstrations," Gladden said.
"The police officers went and bought the material, manufactured what they're calling "sleeping dragons," also known as lockboxes."
Gladden represents Ronnie Garza, one of the protestors arrested that day and charged with an obscure law -- unlawful use of a criminal instrument. The law makes it a felony for someone to manufacture something for the sole purpose of committing a crime. The instruments in this case were "lockboxes" made of large PVC pipes and other materials.
Soon after Occupy Austin protesters began their months-long demonstration at City Hall last fall, Austin police officials assigned at least three undercover officers to infiltrate the group to gather intelligence on any plans that might break the law.Austin Chronicle asks:
The officers camped with other participants in the movement, marched in rallies and attended strategy meetings with Occupy Austin members.
The officers also may have crossed a fine line in undercover police work: They helped plan and manufacture devices - often called "lockboxes" - that allowed Occupy members to tie themselves together during a protest in Houston, according to interviews and court records. The use of the devices, which makes it harder for police to break up human chains, resulted in Houston police filing felony charges against seven protesters who had attempted to block a port entrance in Houston on Dec. 12. include behind-the-scenes details of the lengths the Police Department went to in its efforts to monitor and control the Occupy Austin movement, which maintained a presence at City Hall for nearly five months. According to court documents, police brass up to and including Chief Art Acevedo approved the infiltration operation.
Did an undercover Austin Police detective induce members of Occupy Austin to commit felony obstruction of a roadway during a demonstration in Houston in December 2011? Or, did he – and two colleagues – intervene in protester plans in order to keep them, and police and firefighters responding to the Houston protest, safe?
Harris County District Judge Joan Campbell decide next week whether the case will go forward. She will decide if the activists were induced into using lockboxes – which are not illegal to construct or to own, but are illegal when intended for use in a crime – the distinction that allowed the state to bump the misdemeanor obstruction charge into a felony offense for Garza and his fellow Occupiers. The testimony so far indicates this is so.
Austin Police Chief Sean Mannix said he does not believe any laws or departmental policies were violated, but he confirmed that the infiltration effort is the subject of a high-level internal review which is “absolutely looking into all aspects of what their undercover work was.”
I'm wishing best of luck to the occupiers. It is a travesty of justice in a democracy that voicing free speech can get you framed.