Long Haul settles lawsuit

Note: for unknown reasons, our computer is not allowing us to include apostrophes in text on the website, so we have replaced all apostrophes with a *. Sorry for the inconvenience:

By Jesse D. Palmer

The Long Haul radical community center in Berkeley achieved a $100,000 settlement of a federal lawsuit it brought against the FBI and the University of California police over a August 27, 2008 police raid on Long Haul by a joint terrorism task force during which authorities seized every computer at Long Haul. The UC cops and the FBI entered Long Haul with guns drawn to execute a search warrant as part of an investigation of threatening emails allegedly sent to UC Berkeley animal researchers from a public-access computer connected to the internet at Long Haul. No one was arrested during the raid or subsequently charged with sending the emails.

The Long Haul*s lawsuit claimed that the search was over-broad and contended that police violated the Privacy Protection Act because they seized computers used to publish Slingshot newspaper and the Slingshot Organizer without going through the right procedures. Police seized 14 computers and looked at lending library records and other files, particularly Slingshot file photos of various protests.

In addition to paying $100,000 jointly to Long Haul, co-plaintiff East Bay Prisoner Support, and their lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU, the police agreed to destroy computer hard drive data they seized as part of the raid, and the UCPD agreed to expand the scope of training on the Privacy Protection Act that the police implemented in the wake of the raid. The settlement states that the UCPD “determined there was no evidence of criminal activity on the part of Long Haul, Slingshot, and/or EBPS in connection with the crimes under investigation.” UCPD also “acknowledge[d] that at the time of the execution of the search warrant, Long Haul was a publisher protected by the Privacy Protection Act (*PPA*), and therefore, the PPA prohibited the seizure of any protected work product materials related to the dissemination of Slingshot, except as provided for in the PPA.” The lawyers took 98.5% of the money, which was fine with us. In the wake of the UC Davis pepper spraying and last fall*s UCPD beating of occupy demonstrators, it was nice to make the police squirm, if only a little bit, and if only on their own turf (in Court, wearing suits, etc.)

The police raid was a clumsy attempt to intimidate radicals, but it didn*t work. Long Haul reopened the night of the raid and replaced the seized computers. The police wouldn*t have staged an armed raid or seized every computer at the Berkeley Public Library if the email in question had come from the public library, rather than from a radical Infoshop.

While Long Haul participants were skeptical about turning to the court system, we ultimately decided that it made sense to sue so the police wouldn*t conclude that they can raid infoshops and take computers used to publish the alternative press with impunity. The EFF/ACLU lawyers agreed to do the case for free, so in a sense we didn*t have all that much to lose, even if we didn*t have all that much to gain.

The lawsuit process was educational. Our EFF/ACLU lawyers were great and we thank them for a ton of hard work. On the other hand, the Court system is disempowering, isolating and alienating, even when you*re the plaintiff. On the street during the raid, we had each other, we had our passion, and it was easy to see that the raid was wrong. In court, you*re on your own going through a hyper-bureaucratic dehumanizing framework. Everyone was getting well-paid except us, but somehow we were the only ones with a sense of humor. The worst part was that the court scheduled an all-day settlement conference the day before the Oakland General Strike, when many of us were hyper-busy trying to shut down the city.

We hoped the lawsuit would uncover creepy police tactics, but mostly the documents they released to us were blanked out, so we still can*t be sure how the raid on Long Haul fits into a bigger picture. We did learn that once the police got our computers to the crime lab, they searched them for all sorts of items that were totally unrelated to the telephone threats that they used to get a search warrant.

All in all, direct action and popular struggle are still where it*s at. What a long haul trip it*s been.