By Gadi Dechter
October 1, 2008
Red Emma's, a cooperatively run bookstore and coffee shop, is one of 32 organizations that filed records requests yesterday with state and local law enforcement agencies, wanting to know if they have been under surveillance. The requests were coordinated by the ACLU of Maryland as part of its broadening investigation into spying activity by state police.
Police officials have acknowledged surveillance of death penalty activists in 2005 and 2006, saying the efforts were legal. They said they have cooperated with a separate review panel commissioned by Gov. Martin O'Malley after revelations of the spying this summer sparked concern in Annapolis and Washington. A report on the official probe, led by former Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, is scheduled to be released today.
But David Rocah, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, says new records indicating police may have spied on Red Emma's in January 2005 belie statements made by Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, state police superintendent, that his agency's surveillance activity began in March of that year and ended 14 months later.
Police spokesman Gregory Shipley said he was unaware of any police interest in Red Emma's, a bohemian redoubt offering radical literature and vegan food. Shipley said that the agency would comply with the ACLU's public records requests to the extent required by the law.
Rocah said the suspected Red Emma's infiltration was discovered because state officials failed to redact, in documents made public this year, the alias used by a police agent while she spied in 2005 on the Committee to Save Vernon Evans, a death row inmate.
"They were just incompetent," Rocah said. "They meant to redact it, and they goofed."
In the police document, an agent using the name "Lucy Shoup" is described as having covertly attended a meeting at the American Friends Service Hall in North Baltimore. A member of the Red Emma's cooperative who scoured the released police documents checked that name against an e-mail list maintained by the cooperative and surmised that "Lucy Shoup" could be the same person as an "Ann Shoup" on the list, said Mike McGuire, another Red Emma's member.
What Red Emma's found: On Jan. 4, 2005, "Ann Shoup" sent a message to the cooperative expressing interest in an upcoming lecture by Bernardine Dohrn, a juvenile justice activist, ex-fugitive and former member of the Weather Underground, the violent, late 1960s radical group.
"Hi! I would love to come to the event on Feb 6th," wrote "Ann."
Seven months later, "Ann" wrote back to Red Emma's, asking that her e-mail be switched from email@example.com to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a July 2008 article in The Progressive magazine, Baltimore activist Max Obuszewski - one of the anti-death-penalty spying targets - indicates that "Lucy Shoup" also sent him a message notifying him that her new e-mail address was email@example.com.
McGuire said after discovering the connection, Red Emma's contacted the ACLU of Maryland and asked for their help. "We're appalled by this," he said. "We want to find out the extent of their investigation. ... This is a clear indication that police were being used politically."
The artfully disheveled store, in an English basement on St. Paul Street, features left-leaning zines, free Internet and "Zapatista" coffee. The book section does not have a copy of the infamous Anarchist Cookbook, which has instructions for making explosives, though Red Emma's customers can purchase an actual cookbook by the same name. Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader is scheduled to speak this evening. With the exception of Red Emma's, the other entities that filed records requests yesterday are traditional activist groups, ranging from anti-abortion to anti-war protesters. Among them are the Humane League of Baltimore, the Maryland Coalition Against State Executions, Christian Peace Witness for Iraq and the Algebra Project.
Rocah said the ACLU was coordinating the mass public records request in order to understand the extent of the police's spying activity. "It will be interesting to see whether ... these groups were spied on as well, or whether they weren't spied on, in which case the [Maryland State Police] has some explaining to do about how they choose which groups to spy on."
Sheridan, the police superintendent, has said that he was "troubled" by the previously acknowledged surveillance but that police monitored death penalty activists out of concern that protests around two planned executions in 2005 might get violent.
According to records obtained by the ACLU, police agents secretly joined the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance, a peace group; the Baltimore Coalition Against the Death Penalty; and the Committee to Save Vernon Evans.
Rocah said it was necessary to file individual records-requests for each of the additional 32 groups because when "you're seeking a document that is about you ... you have a greater right of access than general public does." Under Maryland's public information law, the state police have 30 days to respond to the requests.
Though ACLU officials said they had no information that police spying continued after 2006, several activists who are now ACLU clients said revelations of police surveillance on political activists could have a chilling effect on free speech in Maryland.
"If people are spied on, they'll become intimidated," said Jack Ames of Defend Life, a Baltimore-based anti-abortion group.
"We have a constitutional right to oppose government policy," said Jean Athey of Peace Action Montgomery, an anti-war group. "Illegal government spying is a very serious threat to democracy."
Also yesterday, ACLU of Maryland lobbyist Cindy Boersma said she has been talking to lawmakers about proposed legislation that would "prohibit spying and the compilation of ... intelligence dossiers on Marylanders."
The ACLU bills, drafts of which are currently being circulated among members of the General Assembly, would prohibit law enforcement officials from investigating "lawful First Amendment activities" or keeping records of people's political and social beliefs, Boersma said.
She said the ACLU was waiting to see Sachs' report before approaching Gov. Martin O'Malley for his support. O'Malley administration officials had considered postponing today's release of the report because of the recent Medevac crash that killed two state troopers, but Sheridan preferred to dispense with the matter as soon as possible, Sachs said.
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