Activists get $50,000 settlement over RNC raid

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Three activists who were the target of an FBI and police raid on the eve of the 2008 Republican National Convention just settled out of court, getting a $50,000 negotiated settlement from the FBI and the City of Saint Paul. Sarah Coffey, Erin Stalnaker and Kris Hermes plan on giving most of the award to the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, the Institute for Anarchist Studies, and the formation of a national legal defense fund for political activists.

When law enforcement officials arrived at the activists’ house on August 30, 2008, they did not have a warrant, and the activists didn’t let them in.  The police then returned with a warrant, but for the wrong address. They had a warrant for the house next door, where the owner of both properties, Mike Whelan, resided. The premise for the warrant was a large box, which the warrant said contained weapons (in fact, it contained vegan literature). The box was in Whelan’s house, according to Kris Hermes. The warrant also purported to link Whelan to the Symbionese Liberation Army, a now defunct organization. 

Eventually, the officers broke in through the attic. The activists were detained for 4-5 hours inside and outside of the house. They were handcuffed, but not arrested. No property was seized, but the officers looked through computers and cameras.

The plaintiffs had originally hoped to get injunctive relief, preventing law enforcement from carrying out pre-emptive raids in the future, according to Hermes. “This is a pattern,” Hermes said.  “We were hoping to put a stop to it. But we realized that it was probably not going to happen, even if we pursued the case for years. Even with injunctive relief, it may not be enough to push the federal government on this issue, who insist on meddling with political protests. It’s going to take a lot more to end this pattern and practice.” 

The plaintiffs’ lawyers were Rachel E. B. Lang, from the National Lawyer’s Guild, and Joe Elford, who works in California. Both lawyers worked on a pro-bono basis, according to Hermes. 

The lawsuit was launched in August, 2009, but there was a delay in the case because one of the officers had to leave to serve in the military in the Middle East. “We didn’t get very far in the proceedings,” Hermes said. They were still in the discovery stage, during which each side requests information and evidence from the other, when the City of Saint Paul and the federal government offered to settle. 

The owner of the house, Mike Whalen, previously attempted a lawsuit, but lost. There have been numerous lawsuits by activists who were injured in the RNC protests, who have won settlements. There is also a pending case centered on the Ramsey County Sheriff’s raid on the Convergence Space, where First Amendment materials were seized. 

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