FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 27, 1999
EARTH FIRST! BOMBING CASE CLEARED FOR TRIAL
Court of Appeals Tosses Oakland's Appeal
CONTACT: Redwood Summer Justice Project, Tanya Brannan (707)887-0262
Alicia Littletree or Erica Etelson (415)982-7714
SAN FRANCISCO, CA-- Earth First! activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney won a stunning victory in their federal civil rights lawsuit against the FBI and the Oakland Police (OPD) last Friday, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Oakland defendants' motion to be released from the case. The three-judge panel went even further, reinstating charges that the Oakland officers conspired with the FBI to violate Bari and Cherney's First Amendment rights. The full text of the ruling can be read at www.ce9.uscourts.gov (opinions).
Friday's Appeals Court decision denied Oakland's claims of immunity from prosecution for their false arrest and illegal searches of Bari and Cherney after a motion-triggered pipe bomb exploded beneath Bari's seat as she drove through Oakland on May 24, 1990. In a huge win for the environmentalists, the appellate panel also granted the plaintiffs' counter-appeal and reinstated conspiracy charges against Oakland, reversing a 1997 District Court decision.
Erica Etelson, attorney for Cherney and for Bari's estate said, "The Oakland Police suffered a major setback ... we are now set to prove their illegal conspiracy to a jury." Said plaintiff Darryl Cherney, "The appeals court has raked the Oakland Police over the coals for their attempts to delay our case and their violation of our freedom of speech. The FBI and OPD's continuing abuses of the rights of American citizens must be stopped."
At the core of Friday's ruling is evidence of Oakland's role in falsely arresting Bari and Cherney within hours of the blast and in concocting two separate search warrant affidavits, both of which grossly misrepresented key facts about the bomb and about the nature of Earth First!'s political activities. The OPD argued that the FBI gave them false information that the bomb had been visible on the back seat floorboard and thus the activists must have known they were carrying it. The appellate court ruled Oakland had no right to rely on false statements of the FBI, stating, "[The OPD] had been at the scene and had personally observed the location of the hole caused by the explosion ... underneath the driver's seat." The court also points to the plaintiffs' assertion that the OPD, "knowingly or recklessly omitted mention of the death threats against Bari;" clear indications that she and Cherney were targets of a politically-motivated assassination attempt due to their environmental activism.
Finally, the court ruled that Bari and Cherney, "have presented sufficient circumstantial evidence that [the Oakland police] intended to inhibit their First Amendment activities, and that they entered a conspiracy to further this goal." This included providing inaccurate information to the media, monitoring Earth First! prior to the bombing, and acting "in close cooperation with [FBI] ‘conspirators'" to contribute misinformation during the process of obtaining search warrants of Bari and Cherney's homes. The ruling clears a significant hurdle for the environmental activists on their way to a jury trial.
The civil rights lawsuit was filed in 1991, one year after the environmental activists were bombed while driving through Oakland on an organizing tour for the nonviolent Redwood Summer anti-logging campaign. The bomb nearly killed Bari, leaving her severely disabled. She died of breast cancer in 1997.
Within minutes of the blast, the FBI arrived on the scene, and the Oakland Police arrested Bari and Cherney just hours later for transporting the bomb that had been meant to kill them. The lawsuit charges the FBI and OPD with false arrest, illegal search and seizure, and conspiracy to violate the activists' First Amendment rights by using the bombing as an excuse to falsely associate Bari, Cherney, and Earth First! with violence in order to undermine their political activism in defense of the redwoods. No legitimate investigation was ever conducted.
The pursuit of this case vs. the FBI and Oakland police will expose the FBI's use of illegal counter-intelligence operations targeting environmental activists. Notorious other cases of FBI disruption include the frame-up and illegal imprisonment of Black Panther leader Geronimo ji jaga (Pratt) and American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier, still incarcerated after 24 years.