A New York Black Lives Matter group has filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that Clarkstown, N.Y., police illegally spied on its members for at least a year, from January through December 2015.
According to Mother Jones, the Black Lives Matter Global Network chapter in Rockland County actually filed the lawsuit in August, making some very serious allegations about police abuse and misuse of power:
Court documents provided by plaintiff attorney William O. Wagstaff III, including reports and internal communications from the department’s Strategic Intelligence Unit, make up the basis for the group’s allegations that Clarkstown police racially profiled the group’s members and violated their rights to free speech and assembly.
The documents show that the police department’s Strategic Intelligence Unit— established in 2013 between the department and the county DA’s office to gather intelligence on suspected criminals—conducted social-media surveillance on BLM activists and continued to do so even after the unit’s supervisor was told by the lead detective in the prosecutor’s office that the surveillance had to stop.
Note, even when a lead detective told the police to stop with their nonsense, they allegedly continued on with this illegal activity.
Of course, this is not the first time that activists have voiced suspicions or concerns that they were being surveilled; however, as Mother Jones notes, the documents provided in this case represent some of the clearest evidence yet that activists are not making this shit up.
For example, in Clarkstown, the special unit made use of a “geofence” twice in November 2015 to monitor the Twitter and/or Instagram accounts of activists. Through the geofences—which enable virtual tracking of activity within a geographic area—the cops (and users in general, mind you) were able to track the social media posts of a targeted audience within a time frame and to store and analyze the time and location of that data. A report from December 2015 detailed that officers monitored and tracked the social media activity of activists on six occasions.
Mother Jones also managed to get an email exchange between former Chief Detective Peter Modafferi of the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office and the former head of Clarktown’s Strategic Intelligence Unit, Sgt. Stephen Cole-Hatchard. In the emails, Moafferi writes, “I mentioned before, you really should not have Black Lives Matter listed as a target of surveillance.”
And that is just the tip of the iceberg in the suit. The suit claims that Clarkstown police even went so far as to put snipers on the roofs of buildings during rallies led by the BLM group in the summer of 2016.
“The intention is to illegally surveil people with the hope that they can silence them,” William Wagstaff, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, told Mother Jones.
And aside from the obvious paper trail, the group seems to have a slam dunk of a case. In July 2016, Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan was suspended, partially because of evidence that his intelligence unit illegally surveilled a community group called We the People, as well as the local BLM chapter. Sullivan was ultimately fired in September.
Mother Jones notes:
A special prosecutor had been hired by the town supervisor (the equivalent of a mayor) to investigate the unit and had uncovered evidence of improper surveillance targeting Sullivan’s perceived political enemies—including the county sheriff, a judge, the supervisor himself, and even residents who supported cutting the police department’s budget. The investigation resulted in more than a dozen disciplinary charges against Sullivan—who was found guilty for 11 of them.
Back in January, We the People filed its own lawsuit against the police intelligence unit, claiming that the unit had tracked the group on social media. We the People ultimately settled its case in July for $300,000.
As for the BLM group, it is seeking unspecified monetary damages, as well as a cease and desist order against the intelligence unit, whose reports are also shared with neighboring law-enforcement agencies and the Department of Justice—which is probably a legit move, given bogeyman initiatives like the one launched by the FBI to target “black identity extremists.”
Read more at Mother Jones.