FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MELBOURNE, FL - The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and six protesters targeted as "persons of interest" by local police today filed public records requests demanding that the Melbourne Police Department and Brevard County Sheriff Office turn over surveillance files kept on demonstrators who attended a counter inaugural protest earlier this year.
"We've learned that peaceful protesters in Melbourne can't attend a rally in Brevard County without fear that their names will wind up in a criminal intelligence file," said Kevin Aplin, Vice President of the ACLU of Florida's Brevard County Chapter. "Brevard Police need to learn that a public gathering where individuals peacefully criticize government policy is not criminal activity; on the contrary, it is activity that is protected by the United States Constitution."
The ACLU initially filed a public records request after learning that Melbourne Police Department officers secretly videotaped more than 30 individuals participating in a counter inaugural demonstration in front of the Melbourne City Hall. Documents received by the ACLU listed the names of six of the protesters as "persons of interest" and included personal information on each person. The documents also revealed that the Brevard Sheriff's office has been monitoring the Web sites and e-mails of the rally organizers, and sent information about the protesters to personnel at Patrick Air Force Base.
"How did the Sheriff know the names and dates of birth of the six named as persons of interest, and where did they get this information?" asked ACLU Brevard County Chapter President Glenn Pinfield. "What is the Sheriff's legal authority to monitor their Web sites and e-mails?"
Among the "persons of interest" targeted by police is Rebecca Boettcher, a 57-year-old woman whose son served in Iraq with the Marines. Boettcher and the five other "persons of interest" joined the ACLU today in filing new public records requests seeking their respective files.
"It is disturbing to think that attending a peaceful political rally can land you in a police file," said Boettcher. "I have done nothing wrong, except to strengthen our democracy."
In addition to working with the individuals who have been named as "persons of interest," the ACLU said it is also following up with public records requests seeking information on the potential involvement of other government agencies in the surveillance of individuals engaged in constitutionally protected First Amendment activity.
The public records request can be found online at: http://www.aclufl.org/issues/free_speech/PublicRecordsRequestforBrevardCounty.doc