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Monday, September 21, 2009

Seeds of Dissension

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2009 at 2:33 PM

As we have previously reported, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging police harassment of protesters in town for the G-20 summit. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow morning in the courtoom of Gary Lancaster. 

A copy of the ACLU's filing can be found here. It accuses the police of a "a pattern of illegal searches, vehicle seizures, raids and detentions," each involving members of Seeds of Peace, a Montana-based group that plans to cook meals for G-20 demonstrators. Moreover, the suit contends, these "were not random, unauthorized actions of individual police officers, but rather were directed and/or ratified by policymakers within the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police."

The allegations, some of which have been previously reported here, include the following: 

Beginning on Tuesday, September 15, Seeds of Peace members saw "various unmarked cars with people inside parked near the bus and driving by the bus repeatedly during the course of each day... Since the arrival of the bus, officers from the City of Pittsburgh Police Department have routinely and randomly driven by the [bus], including drive-bys in the middle of the night with the officers shining large spot lights onto the property and into the windows."

On Friday, September 18, police allegedly searched the bus "in retaliation for the group’s association with and intention to provide food and medical supplies to G-20 demonstrators," the suit contends. As we reported previously, the bus was impounded by police, supposedly because the driver was not on hand. "Seeds of Peace reclaimed its bus late Friday night, but only after being forced to pay a fee."

After that initial encounter, the Seeds of Peace bus and another food-preparation vehicle were moved to private property -- with the owner's consent. But ...

Late on Sunday night, September 20, as the Seeds were reportedly preparing food, the suit contends that "thirty Pittsburgh police officers with semi-automatic weapons raided the private property in Lawrenceville where the [buses] were parked." Police demanded access to the property, the suit contends, even though they didn't have a warrant: "They informed the owner that this was a national security investigation and that no warrant was necessary."

There were apparently no arrests. But ... 

Shortly after the Sunday evening raid, at about 1:30 a.m., four Seeds members left the buses to walk less than a mile to a private home where they were staying. "Almost immediately a vehicle's lights were shone on them," the complaint alleges. "Shortly thereafter the vehicle drove directly at them at a high rate of speed, screeching to a stop right in front of them.

City police demanded IDs from the Seeds, claiming it was part of an "official investigation." At least one member was searched -- again without warrant, the ACLU says -- and the group was detained for nearly an hour. Officers allegedly told the Seeds that they had been loitering, but later released them without charges.

As of this writing, [the suit says] the police have returned to the buses as of this morning. "Again without either search or arrest warrants, they are demanding that Seeds' members produce identification," the suit contends. "Two are being detained without charge."

City Paper has a reporter on the scene now, as do other media outlets. More details as they become available. 

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