The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal lawsuit in Atlanta on behalf of two vegan protesters who were subjected to imprisonment, arrest and harassment by Homeland Security officials, RAW STORY has learned.
The lawsuit stems from a Dec. 2003 incident, when vegans Caitlin Childs and Christopher Freeman were protesting on public property outside a Honey Baked Ham store in Georgia's DeKalb County.
After the protest, the duo noticed they were being watched and photographed by a man in an unmarked car. They approached the car and wrote down the make, model, color and license plate number on a piece of paper. They then noticed the unmarked car was following them.
According to the ACLU suit, the car contained both a uniformed police officer and an undercover detective, later identified as Homeland Security Detective D.A. Gorman. The two pulled in behind Childs and Freeman and ordered them to exit their car.
Gorman then demanded that she turn over the piece of paper on which she had copied his license tag number. Childs refused to hand the paper over, and was handcuffed.
She was searched a male officer, despite her request to be searched only by a female officer, the ACLU says.
Both Childs and Freeman were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Police confiscated the piece of paper and Childs' house keys. Both were released from custody, but neither the piece of paper nor the keys were returned. The county has not pursued a criminal case.
"All across the country, the ACLU is uncovering information about Americans engaged in peaceful protest being spied on by Homeland Security, the FBI and local police," said Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia. "It is deeply disturbing that the government would use resources intended to protect national security to instead spy on innocent Americans who do nothing more than express their opinions on social and political issues."
The ACLU argues that by stopping and detaining Childs and Freeman for no legal reason and then refusing to tell them why they had been pulled over, Detective Gorman and the DeKalb County Police Department deprived them of their right to be secure in their person and to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The officials' actions violated the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the federal and state constitutions, charged the ACLU.
"People of this country need to realize that our basic human rights are being whittled away on a daily basis," Freeman said. "I hope this case brings to light the fact that anyone can come under government security and pay the price."
In addition to the lawsuit, the ACLU has filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on behalf of Childs and Freeman to uncover any surveillance files kept on the activists by Homeland Security or other law enforcement agencies. ACLU affiliates in 15 other states have filed similar requests with the FBI on behalf of more than 100 groups and individuals, as part of a nationwide effort to expose unlawful domestic spying.
Last month, the ACLU of Michigan obtained an FBI report summarizing a meeting that was intended to keep local, state and federal law enforcement agencies apprised of planned protests and activities by various groups and individuals. Among the groups discussed at the meeting were an affirmative action advocacy group and a peace and justice group.
The ACLU launched its national "Spy Files" effort last year in response to widespread complaints from students and political activists who said they were questioned by FBI agents in the months leading up to the political conventions. The FOIA requests seek two kinds of information: 1) the actual FBI files of groups and individuals targeted for speaking out or practicing their faith; and, 2) information about how the practices and funding structure of joint task forces between the FBI and local police may be encouraging rampant and unwarranted spying.