FBI Targeted Journalist Covering Free Trade Meetings in Miami

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
May 4, 2006 12:00 am

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ACLU of Florida Sues Miami Over Civil Rights Violations

MIAMI -- The American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Miami Chapter, filed a lawsuit today on behalf of a journalist who was under FBI surveillance because of his involvement in protests. The ACLU has obtained FBI documents showing that the FBI monitored freelance journalist David Lippman as he traveled from his home in North Carolina to Miami to cover the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protests in 2003.

“Spying on Americans who are simply exercising their First Amendment rights is an unconstitutional action by the FBI, and in this case, led to violations of the constitutional rights of an innocent man,” said Rosalind Matos, South Florida Staff Counsel for the ACLU of Florida.

According to today’s lawsuit, on November 19, 2003, Lippman’s vehicle was searched, seized and damaged by officers from several law enforcement agencies, without probable cause. FBI agents recruited the local officers to break into his vehicle and then, after damaging the vehicle and disturbing the personal possessions he kept within it, the officers hauled away the vehicle and his possessions.

The ACLU lawsuit cites violations of Lippman’s rights to free press, speech and assembly, and his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The lawsuit also charges that Lippman suffered damage to his physical property as well as emotional and other injuries.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit after receiving documents from the Miami Police Department in response to a records request filed on behalf of Lippman. Among the documents received is an “after-action” report issued by the police department showing that the damage to Lippman’s vehicle was caused by officers from the Broward Sheriffs Office, an FBI Operational Support Team and Miami police. Not only was his vehicle damaged, but as a result of the loss of his vehicle and belongings, Lippman was unable to report on the protests and file a story as a freelance journalist.

“The manner in which the officers dealt with Lippman and his vehicle demonstrates Miami Police Chief Timoney’s inability to have properly trained officers and advise cooperating agencies on when it is, and is not, appropriate to search and seize property,” said Jeanne Baker, an ACLU cooperating attorney. “We hope that the compensation, for the loss of property and rights, that will come from Mr. Lippman’s case will serve as a reminder to police agencies that violations of civil liberties will not be tolerated.”

This is the fifth in a series of lawsuits that the ACLU has filed as a result of police actions at the 2003 FTAA protests. The ACLU filed three lawsuits on November 17, 2005 - the two-year anniversary of the FTAA summit - on behalf of a former Miami New Times reporter, four labor union members and a college student from Massachusetts whose skull was fractured after police hit him in the head three times with a baton. The ACLU filed the first FTAA-related lawsuit in September 23, 2004 on behalf of Carl Kesser, an independent filmmaker who was shot in the head by police with a beanbag rifle.

Named defendants in today’s case are the city of Miami, Broward Sheriff Kenneth C. Jenne, II, United States FBI, and individual officers of each agency. The case, David Lippman v. City of Miami, was filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of Florida by attorneys Matos and Baker.

Previous FTAA-related cases are: Carl Kesser & Martha Kesser v. City of Miami; Delgado v. Miami-Dade County; Owaki v. City of Miami; and Lorne Battiste v. Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne.

The complaint is online at www.aclufl.org/pdfs/Legal%20PDfs/Lippmancomplaintfinal.pdf

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