Spying suit legitimate, ruling says

jpawloski@theolympian.comDecember 18, 2012 

A federal judge was correct to refuse to dismiss all of the claims by members of an Olympia anti-war group in a civil lawsuit alleging that one current and one former Joint Base Lewis-McChord employee violated their Constitutional rights by spying on them, according to a U.S. Court of Appeals opinion filed Monday.

The Court of Appeals memorandum affirms U.S. District Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton’s ruling that certain First and Fourth Amendment claims in a lawsuit filed by members of Olympia Port Militarization Resistance against John Towery and Thomas Rudd can go forward.

Towery is a former civilian employee with JBLM’s Force Protection Division. According to the lawsuit filed by individual members of Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, or OlyPMR, Towery infiltrated the group under an assumed name in May of 2007 and reported on members’ activities to his superiors at JBLM and local law enforcement. Rudd is Towery’s former superior at JBLM’s Force Protection. Rudd still works at the base, JBLM spokesman Joe Piek said Monday.

OlyPMR opposes the Iraq War. In Olympia in 2007, and at other times, the group conducted protests at public ports, aiming to block JBLM from transporting equipment used in the war.

The U.S. Court of Appeals’ opinion filed Monday reads in part, “Plaintiffs have pled a plausible violation of their clearly established First Amendment rights. Plaintiffs have alleged that defendants ‘deterred or chilled the plaintiff’s political speech’ and that such deterrence motivated defendants’ conduct ... . As a result of defendants’ information sharing and coordination with local law enforcement, plaintiffs were allegedly arrested without probable cause. These arrests allegedly disrupted plaintiffs’ peaceful protests and deterred their political speech.”

The opinion further states, “(g)iven plaintiffs strong anti-war message and defendants’ alleged illegal actions in purposefully facilitating a campaign of false arrests, it is plausible that Towery and Rudd were motivated by a desire to silence the protesters and not just by a desire to protect military shipments.”

Drew Hendricks, an OlyPMR member but not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the Court of Appeals decision means the case can finally go forward.

“This decision allows the case to move to the discovery phase, which means the defendants have to share more documentation with us than they already have,” he said. “We already know that JBLM has denied Freedom of Information requests based on the lawsuit. We know that other people were involved in the military whose names have not been revealed. We know there are more secrets out there that people don’t know about.”

A number of other claims against Towery and Rudd by OlyPMR members have been dismissed from the lawsuit by Leighton, including the claim that Towery and Rudd violated the Posse Comitatus Act. The act is a federal law that prohibits the use of the Army for conventional law enforcement activities against civilians.


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