Undercover cops monitoring peace protesters, documents show
The San Francisco Police Department has been monitoring a radical Web site, using undercover officers to spy on antiwar protesters, and apparently collecting personal information about political dissidents, the Bay Guardian has learned
The San Francisco Police Department has been monitoring a radical Web site, using undercover officers to spy on antiwar protesters, and apparently collecting personal information about political dissidents, the Bay Guardian has learned.
A confidential police memo, part of a dossier obtained under the Sunshine Ordinance, acknowledges that at least some of the activities appear to violate the department's own rules.
The internal SFPD documents and a new audit performed by the city's police watchdog agency, the Office of Citizen Complaints, indicate the department has been gathering intelligence on the militant wing of the antiwar movement since last fall. Taken as a whole, the documents suggest some SFPD commanders may have orchestrated a secret spying program without the knowledge of top police officials.
"Undercover surveillance was requested and conducted at anti-war demonstrations on October 26, 2002, January 18, 2003 and February 16, 2003 without proper authorization by the Chief of Police," the OCC audit states.
Approval for the operations went up as high as deputy chiefs David Robinson and Greg Suhr, both of whom are under indictment for their alleged involvement in the Union Street beating scandal, documents show.
Directed by Lt. Kitt Crenshaw, a group of four officers assigned to the Violent Crimes Task Force - a unit that normally handles gang killings - carried out the undercover operations. Dressed as protesters, the squad videotaped the demonstrations and marched along Market Street in the large antiwar parades as well as in the smaller, riotous "breakaway" marches. They also made a handful of arrests for vandalism.
Jonah Zern, an Oakland substitute teacher, was one of two people busted by the squad during the raucous splinter march that snaked through downtown Jan. 18. "All of a sudden the undercover cop jumped out and started beating me up," Zern said. "Then uniformed cops started beating up the undercover guy, apparently thinking he wasn't an officer."
The cops quickly figured it out and hauled Zern and another man, Jeremy Rochelle, down to the county jail at 850 Bryant St., charging both men with an array of felonies. Two days later the protesters were released without bail, and all charges were eventually dropped.
The police squad also logged on to the local Independent Media Center Web site (sf.indymedia.org), a hub of leftist news and discussion. Attached to one police report is a posting on the site by a local activist group, Direct Action to Stop the War, calling for "EMERGENCY MASS NONVIOLENT DIRECT ACTION & PROTEST" on the day the bombs start falling on Baghdad.
The task force's paper trail hints at what may be a broader spying program. One memo says that prior to the Oct. 26 march, "information received by (FOB) Field Operations Bureau revealed that the potential existed for criminal activity" to occur at the protest. Another memo states, "Individuals and groups opposed to United States actions in Iraq are planning possible criminal activity." Other reports confidently identify "East Bay" anarchists as the major force behind the splinter marches and worry about the threat posed by queer shit-disturbers in the Gay Shame and Pink Rage groups.
When interviewed by the Bay Guardian, Crenshaw denied keeping tabs on dissidents outside of protest situations. "We've never tried to infiltrate groups," he told us. "We don't gather intelligence or spy on people. We receive information from average citizens, news sources."
In a two-page message he sent to Capt. Paul Chignell, Crenshaw described "First Amendment activities" as a "guise" used by some radical groups to "conduct their contemptuous acts against corporate and government structures."
The SFPD established strict guidelines on surveillance after S.F. cop Tom Gerard, a former Central Intelligence Agency operative, was caught spying on Bay Area leftists in 1992. Working with the Anti-Defamation League, Gerard had compiled dossiers on some 7,000 radicals.
According to the SFPD's spying rules, which remain in place today, police must receive written permission from the "Commanding Officer of the Special Investigations Division, Deputy Chief of Investigations and the Chief of Police" before mounting a surveillance operation. In the files we reviewed there's no mention of the appropriate command staff being involved in the recent undercover operations.
Lt. Morris Tabak, head of the Special Investigations Division, said he thought Suhr, Robinson, and Crenshaw had inadvertently transgressed department rules. "People make mistakes, and I hope that's what this was," he told us, adding that the guidelines in question are "lengthy" and "confusing."
The rules also bar the police from collecting "information of personal nature that does not relate to a criminal investigation." In its audit the OCC found reason to believe this edict had been violated.
add a comment on this article
add a comment on this article