Law enforcement officers gathering information about a young anarchist accused of vandalizing military recruiting offices began videotaping the July 4, 2007, protest in Riverfront Park before police received complaints the demonstrators were causing a disturbance.
The Spokane Police Department on Tuesday released the jumpy, sometimes out-of-focus videos shot by members of the Criminal Investigation Unit and reportedly kept separate from the main police files of the Independence Day arrests.
In a situation that Spokane police spokeswoman Jennifer DeRuwe described as an honest mistake involving “the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing,” the videos were filed separately in the police property room, and not seen by the main detective handling charges stemming from the arrests. They were not turned over to the prosecution until Monday morning, the day the trial of an arrested protester was scheduled to start. The defense attorney didn’t receive them until minutes before the trial was to begin.
Spokane District Judge Annette Plese has scheduled a hearing for this afternoon on a motion to dismiss the charges against protester Michael C. Lyons and impose sanctions on city prosecutors.
DeRuwe said the Police Department has launched an internal review to determine why the videos weren’t turned over immediately after the arrests.
“It’s absolutely our mistake,” she said. “I don’t think there was any attempt to deceive anyone.”
About 49 minutes of video were shot by at least two officers – one from city police and one from the county Sheriff’s Office – who were in the park before the protesters arrived. The officers were assigned to CIU, which sometimes works with federal law enforcement through the Joint Terrorism Task Force, DeRuwe said, and were making “intelligence gathering videos.”
They were trying to identify associates of Travis Riehl, a self-proclaimed anarchist, who had been charged in May in federal court with spray painting the anarchist symbol on one military recruiting station and throwing a rock through the window of another station. Riehl was one of the organizers of the July 4 demonstration against police brutality but was not arrested in the park.
The videos show the protesters arriving at the park after a march that started in Peaceful Valley, settling into an area near a stage, eating and milling around. Some people who were already in the park appear annoyed, and before any confrontation between protesters and police begins, one officer can be heard saying, “I wish a couple of guys would come by and get into it.”
“Want to hold my badge and (unintelligible) for a few minutes?” the other jokes.
“It’d be like old, big time – oh, we got the sound on that (camera). I’d better be quiet,” says the first.
Later, when a sign is put on the stage with a circle and a slash through the FBI, the JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) and the NSA (National Security Agency), one officer jokes: “I don’t see anything about the CIU.”
The videos, primarily shot with telephoto lenses, seem to be designed to capture protesters’ faces. They don’t show a clear view of the initial arrest of Zach St. John, whom police accused of choking an officer until he was almost unconscious. St. John said he was pushed off his seat and thrown to the ground when he demanded officers identify themselves.
Nor do they show the initial order police gave the protesters to disperse, although at one point an officer can be heard reminding protesters they had been ordered to leave and asking others who weren’t part of the protest to “help us out – go back in the park.”
Lyons appears briefly in the videos. At one point he removes the sign from the stage, and another time he seems to be having a discussion or an argument with an officer, but the camera apparently is too far away to pick up what was said.
Sometimes the videos pick up the protesters shouting obscenities or demanding that police explain why people are being arrested; other times it picks up bystanders thanking police.
St. John accepted a plea bargain that reduced his charge from felony assault to a misdemeanor charge. The other protesters were charged with misdemeanors, and all but Lyons accepted deferred prosecutions that will allow them to have clean records if they avoid arrest on similar charges for a year. Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys involved in any of those cases saw the videos released Tuesday.