Oakland, CA -- In a key ruling in the Earth First!bombing case, U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken refused to grant immunity from prosecution to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Oakland Police Department (OPD) for their mishandling of the 1990 car bombing of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney. The civil rights lawsuit, filed in 1991, charges the FBI and OPD with false arrest, illegal search and seizure, and conspiracy to violate their first amendment right to organize for social change.
Judge Wilken's ruling could be the most significant victory yet for
the activists, clearing the way to take this landmark civil rights case
to a jury trial.
Wilken's ruling states plaintiffs have made an adequate showing that the FBI and Oakland Police deliberately misrepresented clear evidence regarding the location and makeup of the bomb in order to justify the false arrest of Bari and Cherney. Wilken also upholds the right to sue individual officers and agents for illegal searches, and a conspiracy to "chill plaintiffs' advocacy on behalf of Earth First!" in violation of their first amendment rights. She found that FBI special agents Frank Doyle, John Reikes, Stockton Buck, John Conway, Walter Hemje, and Philip Sena and Oakland Police Lt. C. Michael Sims, Sgt. Robert Chenault, and Sgt. Michael Sitterud must stand trial for what Bari and Cherney assert were deliberate attempts to disrupt, discredit and intimidate Earth First!
The ruling states that plaintiffs have made a reasonable showing that the Oakland Police had no probable cause to arrest Judi Bari, who according to police records was placed in custody just three hours after the explosion. Further, Wilken upholds the illegal search charges and agrees there is "substantial showing of deliberate falsehood or reckless disregard of the truth" on the part of the police agents. She states that without the misrepresentation of the facts, including the false characterization of Bari and Cherney as violent terrorists, the magistrate would not have granted the search warrant. The strongest language in the ruling deals with the assertion that the FBI engaged in a conspiracy to violate Bari and Cherney's First amendment rights. She upholds these charges, stating that the FBI supplied false or misleading information to the OPD that contributed to the false arrest and illegal searches. According to Wilken, "A jury could infer from this evidence that defendants...acted out of animus towards Plaintiffs advocacy."
Judge Wilken however, dismissed from the case FBI COINTELPRO specialist Richard W. Held, who was the Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco FBI office at the time of the bombing. Despite his history and expertise in counterintelligence aimed at political activists, including direct involvement in the well-known FBI COINTELPRO campaigns against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement, Held claims that he was unaware of the misconduct of the agents under his supervision and of the FBI operation against Bari, Cherney and Earth First!Plaintiffs are appealing this part of the decision.
The ruling also provides for the lawsuit to continue in the name
of the estate of Judi Bari, in light of her death of breast cancer on March
Instead of trying to find the bomber, the FBI and Oakland Police had the activists arrested and then attempted to frame them on charges of transporting the very explosives that were used to try to kill them. The arrest directly contradicted the physical evidence, and ignored previous death threats against the pair. The bomber remains at large.
The Plaintiffs allege that the conspiracy against Bari and Cherney
was part of a larger FBI COINTELPRO operation against them and Earth First!
COINTELPRO, the FBI's notorious counterintelligence program, was ordered
disbanded in the 1970's after the Church hearings by the U.S. Senate
found the practice unconstitutional. COINTELPRO is an FBI program
designed (in the words of J. Edgar Hoover) to "expose, disrupt, misdirect,
discredit and otherwise neutralize" activists and groups advocating social
change in the U.S. The case of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney shows
clearly that COINTELPRO is alive and well in the '90s.