Lock mess: Austin cops supplied incriminating devices to Occupy protesters
The officer was one of the three APD agents who infiltrated the movement. He helped them obtain lockboxes, homemade devices consisting of a plastic or metal tube with a bolt running across in the center.
Usually, two activists put their arms inside a lockbox and chain it to the bolt with a carabiner. The tube may be covered from the outside with wire and duct tape to conceal the location of the bolt and protect it from being cut with a saw. The device is meant to make it harder for the police to break up a human chain.
Such devices were used by seven Occupy Austin protesters who tried to block a port entrance in Houston in mid-December 2011. Police arrested 20 activists on the night. Ten were charged with low-level misdemeanor, while the seven who used the lockboxes received more serious felony charges and face up to two years in jail.
The situation seemed to be set up from the beginning, with officers suspiciously “knowledgeable” about this rare law, Ronnie Garza, one of the charged activists, told RT.
“Because as obscure as this law is for some reason one of the officers knew it was a felony. And while we were out there on the road… the officer on the road said: “Felony! Felony!” to everyone who was there on the road,” said Garza.
It was revealed that an undercover police officer played an integral part in the protester’s obtaining the incriminating devices, reports The Austin-American Statesman newspaper. Detective Shannon Dowell, known to protesters as “Butch”, allegedly purchased materials with Occupy Austin money and delivered the finished gear to group members.
Garza also claims that he himself had to find out Dowell`s identity and hand it over to the defines, because the District Attorney`s office has been reluctant to answer their information requests.
Greg Gladden, defense lawyer acting pro bono in the matter, says the case against his clients should be dismissed now that the police involvement was brought to light.
"Entrapment is one term," the newspaper cites Gladden as saying. "Police misconduct might be another term."
Dowell’s role in the matter was not reported to the court until defense team subpoenaed him, reports Houston Chronicle newspaper. Gladden said he received an anonymous tip that Dowell had bragged about his undercover work at a dinner party.
"I believe he is a government provocateur," Gladden said. "I didn't find out from the DA's office or the police. I found out because Dowell was bragging to the wrong people about setting these kids up, and [those people] tipped us off. It was his big mouth that got him down here."
Prosecutors told the judge they had no idea that APD had an officer in the Occupy movement.
"Had we realized that an undercover officer was involved" and had participated in the construction of the dragon sleeves, "that is clearly Brady material," Harris County prosecutor Colleen Barnett said in an interview after the hearing. He was referring to the Brady v Manning case and the prosecution’s obligation to disclose to the defense any exculpatory evidence they possess.
APD Assistant Police Chief Sean Mannix insisted the officers acted properly during the operation.
"We obviously had an interest in ensuring people didn't step it up to criminal activity," he said. "There is obviously a vested public interest to make sure that we didn't allow civil unrest, violent actions to occur."
State District Judge Joan Campbell initially dismissed the case, but eventually had to take it after prosecutors brought it before a grand jury and obtained indictments. She is now reviewing Austin police emails delivered to her court for possible information favorable to the defendants.