Honk for Peace charges dropped

May 12, 2009

The City of Burnsville has dropped charges against a woman who honked in support of protesters who were holding signs along a public road.

The ACLU of Minnesota represented Barbara Gilland, saying that the issuing of the citation violated Ms Gilland's First Amendment rights. The City of Burnsville agreed to drop the charges and to no longer issue citations for improper use of horn when using it to express freedom of speech. except when necessary to preserve public safety. The City also agreed to issue a directive to officers and update its Policies and Procedures to prevent free speech violations in the future.

Ms Gilland was represented by ACLU volutneer attorney Howard Bass of Bass Law Firm.

The role of the ACLU

April 01, 2009

The job of the American Civil Liberties Union is to protect and defend the rights contained in the constitution. This week the ACLU commented on the plan by the City of St. Paul to ban 10 individuals from the West Side for a period of unknown time this spring (the so-called Cinco d Mayo banning). We felt that the ban is overbroad, vague, and violated the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

However, our positions are not always popular. Here is one response we received:

"I apologize if this sounds dis-jointed, but I don't even know where to start. There is a part of being liberal, and there is a part of being a responsible citizen.

How on earth could you be fighting for the rights of gang members?

Do you have any-I mean-ANY understanding, of what the police know about these non-citizens? They have no rights to go around and enforce their own justice. And if you think they do-then lets set them up in homes and apartments around YOUR home. And once they entice your children in to joining-we will see how you feel about their "rights". When is the ACLU going to get it.

When the ACLU stoops to the level of supporting gangs, you make it really hard for liberal Americans to support the ACLU. How on earth can you be so stupid to defend this. "

It is upsetting to think that the rights that all good people have are also the rights that all bad people must be allowed to have as well. Gangs are bad and nobody wants to live with gang violence and crime.

We believe that, like all crime and terrorism, we cannot abandon the notions of fairness and justice that defines us as Americans in order to achieve our goals in the way that we think is the most expedient. This is a band-aid solution and we think that the City should focus on addressing the root societal problems that lead young men to join gangs in the first place.

We believe that people are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The presumption of innocence is the foundation of our criminal justice system. When we allow the government to secretly create a scoring system in order to send individuals to jail the rights of all of us are at risk.

Many things about this situation are troubling. In no particular order they are:

  1. The city collected secret information on this group of people, in many cases from rival gangs. They have refused to make any of that information public. My concern is that rival gangs could be using the government to eliminate their rivals.
  2. The city proposes to have a civil hearing where they do not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these individuals are members of a gang, or that this gang exists. The government defines a gang, and whether an individual is a member of the gang. The government also decides whether or not crimes committed by people the government believes are gang members can also be charged to everyone they've decided is a gang member.
  3. Because it is a civil trial there is no constitutional requirement that these people be represented by counsel. If they are poor or middle class they almost certainly won't be represented. The consequence of violating this banning is a misdemeanor (90 days in jail).

This is the same kind of thinking that gave us Guantanamo - we can't convict them of a crime so we create a backdoor way to put them in jail because we are "sure" they are guilty.

This is a difficult issue and for that reason we should be reluctant to reach for quick answers. Studies in other states (particularly Pennsylvania) show that using evidence based strategies to address youth crime and violence actually works, couldn't we give that a try.

If these individuals were violent criminals, let us try them in criminal court, and if they are found guilty sentence them to prison for the damage they have done to society. Let us not take the easy way out of this difficult situation.

Read the Star Tribune article for more details about the banning

Minnesota Court Court of Appeals upholds First Amendment rights

February 18, 2009

ACLU of Minnesota applauds Minnesota Court of Appeals reversal of an earlier district court decision which restricted First Amendment rights.

In July 2008 the ACLU filed a friend of the court brief in defense of James Stengrim's First Amendment Rights. Mr. Stengrim was sued by the Middle Snake Tamarac Rivers Watershed District, a local government entity, for expressing an opinion critical of the District's flood control plans. Mr. Stengrim and other land owners opposing the flood control project filed suit against the District in 2002. At that time a settlement agreement was reached and one provision of it forbade the land owners from challenging the project again. Consistent with the agreement, Mr. Stengrim has not filed a legal challenge since, but remains an outspoken critic of the District's handling of the project. When he was sued for violating the settlement agreement, he tried to use Minnesota's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) law which allows defendants to seek the dismissal of any civil suit that seeks to silence lawful speech or action aimed at government action, but the district courts refused to apply that law. So the ACLU filed an amicus brief in Mr. Stengrim's defense when the case was appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Earlier this week Mr. Stengrim was vindicated when the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the district court decision which said that the anti-SLAPP law did not apply in the Stengrim case. The ACLU's amicus brief argued that the anti-SLAPP law should protect Mr Stengrim, and that one cannot sign away their first amendment rights.

The court of appeals reversed the district court decision, and said that Mr. Stengrim has the right to use the anti-SLAPP law to defend his First Amendment rights. We applaud the MN Court of Appeals decision.

You can read the Minnesota Court of Appeals Stengrim Decision.

ACLU protests potential ban on recording meetings

February 17, 2009

A new suggestion by St. Louis County Commissioners would ban private citizens from recording at any board workshops. So, last week the ACLU of Minnesota sent a letter to St. Louis Count Board asking them not to pursue any recording bans. We believe that such a move would not only violate the Minnesota Open Meetings law but also the state and U.S. Constitutional rights to freedom of speech.

The board is considering the ban because recordings that had been made by an attendee at previous meetings were made public and some County Commissioners were criticized for their opposition to the sale of tax forfeited land to local Indian tribes. We hope that the St. Louis Count Commissioner listen to us and do not put the ban into place.

Read the Letter to St Louis County.

Revealing RNC document leaked

November 21, 2008

The American Civil Liberties Union recently came across a revealing "RNC Homeland Security Document". This official document was uncovered by the website Wikileaks, which according to its website "We help you safely get the truth out". This document outlines the planning leading up to the Republican National Convention and how security forces would be working together during the RNC. Many federal, state and local organizations were mentioned in this document, a number of which the ACLU did not know were involved. A number of these agencies are military based, which may directly conflict with Federal law that prohibits the military from engaging in domestic intelligence gathering.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), is one of the organizations that is mentioned in the report that is particular cause for concern. NGA provides mapping tools and imagery intelligence that are obtained from the United State's military spy satellites which are controlled by the National Reconnaissance Office. In other words during the RNC, these top spying tools could have been utilized to gather intelligence on the homes of activists and media workers who were a part of the demonstrations. That information could have then been relayed to local officials.

A second agency that was involved in the planning is the Pentagon's Northern Command, NORTHCOM. Having NORTHCOMM at the table, assisting in the planning is troubling because it could mean that the military was involved in the crowd control strategies and dealing with potential civil unrest. According to a report in Army Times, it said that an active military unit has been deployed by NORTHCOM in the United States. This deployment marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment within U.S. Borders.

Furthermore it appears that the FBI may have been using a station faking technology that would allow them to locate an individual through their cell phone. The ACLU is concerned with how this technology is used and if there was proper judicial oversight. In the USA Patriot ACT, this process for obtaining a track was made easier, and could allow for little to no judicial oversight. This tracking via cell phones could have been used during the RNC without the knowledge of even the phone companies.

"These behaviors are a radical departure from separation of civilian law enforcement and military authority, and could, quite possibly, represent a violation of law," said Teresa Nelson, ACLU of Minnesota. The ACLU-MN will continue to investigate and will use their findings in future lawsuits against law enforcement officials.

Federal Judge denies release of 1st Amendment Protected Materials

September 04, 2008

Federal Judge John Tunheim denied the ACLU-MN request to release the literature and educational materials that were illegally seized by police during mass raids on private homes and a gather place the weekend before the RNC. The raids were part of what appears to be a massive government crackdown on free speech during the Republican National Convention.

"Pamphlets and buttons are constitutionally-protected forms of free speech and the police have no business going around confiscating them from innocent people," said Chuck Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU of Minnesota. "It is greatly disturbing if and when the materials are released, it will be too late for their owners to distribute them at the convention."

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of six individuals who own the confiscated material, which includes First Amendment-protected literature, buttons, pamphlets, leaflets and books. None of those individuals have been arrested or charged with any crime. The complaint charges that the materials were seized in an effort to "chill First Amendment rights to distribute literature, to disseminate ideas, to peaceably assemble, and to redress grievances - all protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments" of the Constitution.

"Seizing boxes and boxes of literature is another example of the wide-reaching government assault on free speech throughout the convention," said Samuelson. "This kind of law enforcement abuse of power has no place in a democracy."

The complaint was filed against the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota's Ramsey County, Ramsey County Sheriff Robert Fletcher, three deputies of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, and unnamed St. Paul and Minneapolis police officers.

Attorneys on the case are Terri Nelson, legal counsel with the ACLU of MN; ACLU volunteer lawyers Al Goins and Rick Petry; and Geneva Finn of the National Lawyers Guild.

 

ACLU Sues St. Paul and Minneapolis For Release Of Educational Materials Seized During Raids

September 04, 2008

ST. PAUL - The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a lawsuit in federal court late last night calling for the release of literature and educational materials that were illegally seized by police during mass raids on private homes and a gather place earlier this week. The raids were part of what appears to be a massive government crackdown on free speech during the Republican National Convention.

"Pamphlets and buttons are constitutionally-protected forms of free speech and the police have no business going around confiscating them from innocent people," said Chuck Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU of Minnesota. "It is greatly disturbing if and when the materials are released, it will be too late for their owners to distribute them at the convention."

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of six individuals who own the confiscated material, which includes First Amendment-protected literature, buttons, pamphlets, leaflets and books. None of those individuals have been arrested or charged with any crime. The complaint charges that the materials were seized in an effort to "chill First Amendment rights to distribute literature, to disseminate ideas, to peaceably assemble, and to redress grievances - all protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments" of the Constitution.

"Seizing boxes and boxes of literature is another example of the wide-reaching government assault on free speech throughout the convention," said Samuelson. "This kind of law enforcement abuse of power has no place in a democracy."

The complaint was filed against the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota's Ramsey County, Ramsey County Sheriff Robert Fletcher, three deputies of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, and unnamed St. Paul and Minneapolis police officers.

Attorneys on the case are Terri Nelson, legal counsel with the ACLU of MN; ACLU volunteer lawyers Al Goins and Rick Petry; and Geneva Finn of the National Lawyers Guild.

 

At RNC, Arraignments Begin And Arrests Continue

September 04, 2008

RNC Security Worker Among Those Arrested

ST. PAUL - Hundreds of people arrested during a crackdown on free speech in the first days of the Republican National Convention (RNC) were arraigned yesterday. The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota assembled teams of attorneys to offer legal services at the proceedings.

"There have been hundreds of arrests, and we expect hundreds more, but the number of arrested is not nearly matched by the number of crimes committed. Most of these people are being picked up for doing nothing other than exercising their right to be out in public," said Chuck Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU of Minnesota.

Most of the people arraigned yesterday were charged with misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor and felony charges even though they were swept up in mass arrests while exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and peaceable assembly. Among those arrested were a RNC security worker on his way to work and several journalists attempting to cover the protests outside the convention. Dozens more were arrested yesterday while watching a Rage Against The Machine concert.

Attorneys have objected that bail for those arrested at the RNC is being set unreasonably high- in some cases as much as $2,000. They have also expressed concern about the atmosphere at the law enforcement center where those arrested are being detained. The building is surrounded by eight foot high chain link fence and patrolled by National Guard troops. There are also several teams of police officers in riot gear. Nobody is allowed to enter the complex without ID, and only attorneys are allowed to carry any bags into the building.

"The police presence is scary. The Law Enforcement Center - the jail - looks like something you would find in Baghdad, not in St. Paul," said Samuelson.

The national ACLU has called for an investigation into any civil liberties violations at the RNC. That statement is available online at: www.aclu.org/freespeech/protest/36636prs20080904.html

Photo journalists released from jail without charges after 36 hours

September 03, 2008

Saint Paul, Minn- Two photo journalism students were released September 3rd after being held without charge for 36 hours following their arrest during the Republican National Convention. The advisor was also arrested, but released earlier without charges.

Two students, Britney McIntosh and Edward Matthews, and their advisor, James Winn, of the University of Kentucky newspaper the Kentucky Kernel were arrested on Labor Day while photographing demonstrations and law enforcement response outside the RNC. The Kernel has a circulation of 30,000, one of the largest rates of student newspapers in the country, and the students and their advisor had journalist credentials and registration when they were arrested.

Despite their peaceful, lawful behavior the photo journalists were swept up and arrested with no concern by the police officers as to whether they committed any crimes.

"The arrest of a journalist while documenting political activity violates our country's freedom of the press," stated Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. "There are no justifications to arrest any journalists peaceably assembled at demonstrations."

The three Kentucky Kernel journalists are only a few of the many journalists taken into prolonged custody during the sweeping arrests by law enforcement this week. The ACLU of Minnesota has identified other journalists, bloggers and photographers from Rhode Island, California, Florida, Illinois and other parts of the country who have also been arrested. The photojournalist from Illinois was arrested with the Kernel photo journalists; he however was not released, and is being charged with a Gross Misdemeanor Riot.

"The freedom of all journalists, whether they report as freelancers or work for the NY Times should be respected and protected," stated Samuelson.

McIntosh, Matthews and Winn were released just prior to the end of the 36 hour hold period allowed by law. Though their physical freedom has been restored, McIntosh and Matthews have so far been denied the opportunity to continue reporting as their camera equipment has not been returned to them.

Even though they have been released, they were informed they could still be charged with a crime at a later time. The ACLU-MN is reviewing their legal options regarding their arrests.

The students and their advisor were represented by Matthew Lute of the Matthew Lute Law Office.

 

ACLU To Represent Reporter And Others Arrested At RNC

September 03, 2008

Group Continues To Defend Constitutional Rights, While Denouncing Protesters Who Employed Criminal Acts

SAINT PAUL –The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has coordinated legal counsel for Amy Goodman, host of the popular television and radio program DemocracyNow!, and two of that show’s producers who were detained during mass arrests surrounding the Republican National Convention (RNC). Goodman was released on misdemeanor charges three hours after her arrest, while the producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, were arrested for probable cause riot and later released pending further investigation.The St. Paul Police Department has stated those cases will not be presented to the County Attorney's Office for consideration of possible felony charges. Instead, the Police Department will submit the cases to the St. Paul City Attorney's Office for consideration of possible non-felony charges. The ACLU of MN is calling for all charges against Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar to be dropped.

"Arresting journalists to keep them from doing their jobs is a blatant violation of their constitutional rights and the right of the American public to be kept informed,” said Chuck Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU of Minnesota. “The arrest of several journalists during the Republican National Convention is a disturbing practice and a violation of their First Amendment right to gather the news.”

The ACLU is also taking on clients from the group of nearly 300 who were arrested on the first day of the RNC.

John Lundquist, an ACLU volunteer attorney with Fredrikson and Byron P.A., is counsel for Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar.

The national ACLU is calling for an investigation into the raids and mass arrests that have occurred during the RNC.