Austin police admit to going undercover to infiltrate Occupy
September 2, 2012
Undercover Austin police officers infiltrated local Occupy gatherings and strategy sessions to gather intelligence, a newspaper reported Saturday.
At least three officers marched with Occupy Austin, camped with participants and attended strategy meetings, The Austin-American Statesman reported (http://bit.ly/ObSA5A ). Police officials up to Chief Art Acevedo approved the undercover officers, according to court documents.
Officials confirmed to the newspaper that the officers were used, but declined to comment on whether whether at least one of the officers helped make “lockboxes” generally used to make it difficult for police to break up human chains during protests.
Assistant Police Chief Sean Mannix declined to discuss any specific actions officers might have taken.
“We are absolutely looking into all aspects of what their undercover work was,” Mannix said.
Houston police charged seven protesters who tried to block a port entrance in the city in December. At a recent hearing in Harris County district court, Austin detective Shannon Dowell disclosed purchases of PVC pipe and other materials believed to be used for lockboxes.
Greg Gladden, attorney for protester Ronnie Garza, said the charge against Garza should be dismissed because Dowell and other undercover officers were centrally involved. The protesters are charged with using a device that is built for the purpose of participating in a crime, a relatively obscure felony statute.
“Entrapment is one term,” Gladden told the newspaper. “Police misconduct might be another term.”
A Harris County judge is set to decide next week whether to allow the case to go forward.
Gladden said a man protesters knew only as “Butch” was one of the people who got money for the supplies to build lockboxes.
“They then built them at home and came back with change and receipts and the devices,” Gladden said.
Officials have not released the names of other officers who worked with Dowell.
Mannix defended the officers’ work to prevent what he described as “civil unrest.”
“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.”