FREE SPEECH -- A federal judge ruled yesterday that Berkeley
activists can sue federal agents for their role in a 2008 raid in which
officers seized their computers and records in search of alleged
threats by animal-rights advocates, reports Bob Egelko in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The activist group Long Haul Inc. can try to prove that the search
of its Berkeley offices exceeded legal boundaries, that agents misled
the judge who issued a search warrant and that it was targeted because
of its left-wing views, said U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White.
An unaffiliated group with offices in the same Berkeley building,
East Bay Prisoner Support, also won the right to sue on the same
Both groups have also sued the University of California, whose
police were involved in the raid. The university did not join the
federal government's attempt to dismiss the suit.
Long Haul operates a bookstore, public computer terminals and
meeting rooms at a storefront on 3124 Shattuck Ave. A judge approved
the search warrant in August 2008 after a UC police detective said
threatening messages to animal researchers at UC Berkeley two months
earlier had been sent from a computer at the storefront.
UC police, two federal agents and other officers entered the
building the next day while it was closed. The suit said they had
broken into locked doors and cabinets, seized all 14 computers in the
building, combed through library and bookstore records, and taken
computer drives and other items from both Long Haul and East Bay
Prisoner Support, which was not named in the warrant.
The suit said officers had no evidence that either group was
involved in illegal acts and had failed to tell the judge that both
groups publish newspapers, a status that requires special justification
for law enforcement searches.
In seeking dismissal, the federal government said its officers had
believed that tracing the threats and seizing the records was necessary
to prevent serious harm. But White said that argument depends on disputed facts he can't
resolve at this stage, and that the two-month interval between the
messages and the raid weakens the government's claim of an emergency.
White, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, said the two
groups could also sue the government for allegedly violating their
right of free speech, but must present evidence that officers had been
motivated by the groups' political views.