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Tuesday, October 04, 2005 | Justin Hand used to have a document on his wall that said “Just say no to the police: What to do if the police come to the door.” He said he downloaded it from the ACLU’s Web site.
He doesn’t have it any more. The FBI confiscated it when they searched his house on Friday.
Hand is the husband of jailed vegan activist Danae Kelley. Kelley and another activist, David Agranoff, were jailed on July 12, 2005 when U.S. District Chief Judge Irma Gonzalez ruled they were in contempt of court for refusing to testify in a federal grand jury investigation.
The FBI raid on Kelley and Hand’s property coincided with raids at Kelley’s mother’s house and at the home of one of Kelley’s friends. Attorneys for the activists say the raids are the latest in a series of intimidation tactics used by federal prosecutors in their ongoing investigation.
“I think they’re ratcheting up the pressure,” said Julie Blair, attorney for Kelley. “They really want my client to talk to them. They’ve tried the jail, that didn’t work. They subpoenaed her husband, that didn’t work. They tried to get a $25 a day fine and that didn’t work, so they said ‘OK, well maybe we’ll try this.’ “
The FBI’s investigation concerns a 2003 arson at a University City condo project that has been attributed to an extremist environmental movement known as the Earth Liberation Front. On the night of the fire, Kelley and Agranoff attended a speech in Hillcrest made by Rod Coronado, a convicted arsonist, animal rights activist and one-time spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front.
Federal prosecutors asked for Kelley and Agranoff’s testimony as part of their ongoing investigation, but the activists have repeatedly refused to give evidence, saying that the grand jury investigation is overly secretive and violates their rights under the First Amendment.
The jailing of the activists is meant to coerce them into testifying. If lawyers for the defendants can prove that the incarceration is no longer coercive, but is serving to punish the activists for not testifying, then by law they must be released. That means the defendants must prove to the judge that their clients are never going to testify, no matter how long they serve in jail.
So far, attorneys for the activists have stuck firmly to one central argument: That their clients will simply never testify to a grand jury, no matter what happens to them, their family or their friends. They say Friday’s events are no exception.
The raid on Hand and Kelley’s North Park apartment happened just after dawn on Friday, Sept. 30.
Hand, who had been entertaining some friends, was about to go to bed. One friend was about to leave to go to a college class, the other was asleep in Hand’s bedroom.
The police knocked on the door of the apartment. When they told Hand who they were, the 22-year-old asked to see a search warrant. According to Hand, the agents refused, insisting instead that he open the door and step into his apartment. As soon as he opened the door, Hand said, he was thrown into handcuffs. His two friends were also cuffed and all three were ordered to sit on the couch, Hand said. The three 20-somethings were stunned.
“I thought it was a joke,” he said. “I thought I was dreaming.”
As it dawned on him that this was, in fact, happening, Hand said he tried to watch exactly what the FBI agents were doing, but was told he couldn’t stray from his position in the living room. Eventually, Hand relaxed and even began to make small talk with the agents, who he said seemed to be treating his possessions with respect.
Hand said the investigators took away nine paper bags full of his possessions. On the list of confiscated items was Hand’s iPod, his laptop computer, his cellphone, Kelley’s diaries, personal letters, undeveloped film, VHS tapes and CDs. In short, Hand said, they took most of the young couple’s valued possessions.
“I feel violated,” said Hand. “I was sitting, in my apartment, handcuffed, while they were doing stuff, and I couldn’t do anything about it.”
“Who knows what they took,” he added, “Who knows what they planted. They could have taken something and pocketed it.”
The federal prosecutors working on the case would not comment on the raids, citing the secret nature of the grand jury proceedings.
Gerald Singleton, Hand’s attorney, said the grand jury system, and particularly how it has played out in this case, is “outrageous.”
“It violates everything that this country stands for,” said Singleton. “That’s why they’re doing it this way, that’s why they won’t have their tactics exposed to the light of day, because what they do is more appropriate to Stalinist Russia than it is to the United States of America.”
Attorneys for Kelley and Agranoff were also concerned about the presence of a United States prosecutor at Hand’s apartment as the search was taking place. According to Hand, United States attorney Steve Cook, who is prosecuting Kelley and Agranoff, was at Hand’s apartment for the three-hour duration of the search.
Former U.S. attorney Bill Braniff said that was “unusual,” but said agents can provide for the presence of a prosecutor when they apply to the court for a search warrant. The United States Attorney’s Manual does not include any special rules for attorneys to follow when requesting that a prosecutor is present during a search.
Singleton said there are also fundamental differences between his client’s account of what happened on Friday and Cook’s version of events. He said the prosecutor claims Hand was not cuffed for the three hours agents spent looking through his property, and was actually free to go whenever he pleased.
Hand said that’s not true. The former Navy man said he was cuffed for the duration of the raid. The FBI search was “100-percent harassment,” he said, with the aim of pushing his wife towards testifying in the government’s investigation.
“I’m not going to let it get me down,” Hand said. “I’m a stand-up citizen. I served four and a half years in the military, I’ve done my fair share of stuff. I’ve done probably more for fighting the war on terrorism than they have, and I’m getting harassed because they think I’m harboring a domestic terrorist … Wake up guys.”
Singleton said he’s looking into what he says is a blatant violation of his client’s Fourth Amendment rights. He’s also considering filing a motion to return his client’s property and is thinking about filing a Federal Tort Claims Act violation against the agents.
Singleton’s challenge will be getting Hand’s friends to testify against the FBI. At this stage, he said, they are terrified.
Please contact Will Carless directly at