At 10:50 a.m. on February 13, Bassam Khawaja was called from his music theory class, where he was completing an exam, and told that police were waiting for him. At his dorm room, he was met by the Macalester Dean of Students, the Macalester Head of Security and four St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) officers, two of whom were in uniform. As they stood outside the room, waiting for a search warrant to arrive, the officers refused to tell Khawaja the reason for the search. After half an hour, SPPD Sergeant Julie Maidment arrived with the warrant.
Khawaja’s room was searched because of his alleged involvement in damaging a Minneapolis police squad car during the protests held in response to the Republican National Convention on September first of last year. In her application for the search warrant, Sgt. Maidment stated that photographs taken while the squad car windows were being smashed appeared to match photos of Khawaja posted to Facebook prior to the RNC, as well as the photo on his driver’s license.
However, the warrant specifically mentions that the suspect “appeared to have star tattoos in the inside of both of his forearms and a heart style tattoo with and [sic] “A” in it on the exterior of both forearms.”
“As soon as I read that,” said Khawaja, “I looked over at the Dean of Students and said ‘It can’t be me, I don’t have any tattoos.’ At which point one of the plainclothes officers started speaking to me in a very raised and forceful tone, telling me that I was in no position to question the contents of the warrant, that my consent was not required, and that they were going into my room no matter what I said. I told them I was not going to consent to the search, at which point the Head of Campus Security unlocked the door for them without reading the warrant.”
“These are my concerns: that the warrant was backdated and that they entered my room after it was clear I wasn’t the person on the application for the warrant,” said Bassam Khawaja.
Sgt. Maidment did not return repeated calls for comment.
As the officers searched his bedroom, Khawaja sat in his dorm’s common room. He was then moved into the bedroom as the common room was searched. However, despite the fact that the warrant listed various articles of clothing believed to be at the premises, including a variety of black clothing items and red shoelaces, as well as a hammer, they removed only a number of printed documents “related to Anarchist activity.” These items include a copy of the Rebel Worker’s Organizing Handbook, a sticker reading “Your Bombs, Your Tanks, Your Bullets Kill,” a flyer for a “Funk the War” protest and a copy of The Communist Manifesto.
A week later Khawaja received a call saying he could pick up his items if he would go to the station and answer some questions. His lawyer called the police back, informing them that under no circumstances would his client answer their questions. He has no plans to retrieve his documents in the near future.
Perhaps the oddest aspect of the case is related to the date the search warrant was signed. Although Sgt. Maidment’s warrant application is dated February 13, the warrant as signed by Judge James H. Clark is dated October 27, 2007. Khawaja acknowledges that while this could be a typo, it nevertheless renders the search illegal, as warrants are only valid for ten days after signing.
An assistant for Judge Clark explained that, because he signs so many warrants each day, the Judge could not comment on this one specifically.
Khawaja wishes that Macalester had better handled the situation and is working with a number of faculty members to discuss how the safety of students might be better served in the future.
“I understand that the administration cannot refuse access to a room once a legal warrant has been signed,” he said, “but this was not one of those cases.”
Tim Lehman is a student at Macalester College and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.