Student Who Bit FBI Agent Is Due to Win a Dismissal

Times Staff Writer

Kristen Crabtree, the UC San Diego student charged with felony assault for biting the finger of an FBI agent, won a victory Monday when the government agreed to dismiss her case in September, 1989, if she violates no laws between now and then.

Under the agreement, known as a “deferred prosecution,” Crabtree neither admits guilt nor faces any penalty. Her lawyer called the settlement, approved by Chief U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson Jr., “a good way for this ridiculous case to finally come to an end.”

“I think Kristen was very nice to give the government a gracious way out of this case,” attorney Barton Sheela III said. “It would have been fun to bring it to trial, but Kristen wants to put this behind her and get on with her life. Besides, this is as good an outcome as we would have got with an acquittal.”


‘Appropriate Disposition’

Acting U. S. Atty. Nancy Worthington said the agreement is the product of negotiations and called it “the most appropriate disposition of the case from our perspective.” She said prosecutors have no regrets about pressing the case and insisted that, “under the circumstances, it was an appropriate charge to bring” against Crabtree.

Crabtree, a 19-year-old honors student majoring in political science and anthropology, said the agreement was “pretty much of a victory in the total sense” and something she “couldn’t pass up.” She said she is considering a civil lawsuit over the episode.

“It’s been a stressful experience . . . but I think it’s really great because we succeeded in exposing the FBI’s role on campus and their link with the university, which is what we set out to do,” said Crabtree, a senior at UCSD’s Third College. “I think (filing the charge) was a pretty poor departmental decision on their part and it seems they’ve come to realize that.”

Crabtree’s trial had been scheduled to begin Sept. 20. If a jury had convicted her of the felony charge, she could have been sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison and given a $250,000 fine.

Photo Set Off Incident

The case stems from a May 14, 1987, episode on the UCSD campus, where Crabtree was among about 20 students protesting the involvement of FBI, CIA and military recruiters in a career fair. When she attempted to photograph FBI Special Agent Marene Allison, who was staffing the FBI table, Allison grabbed the camera strap. A brief scuffle ensued and Crabtree bit the agent’s finger. The student was later arrested and jailed briefly on the assault charge.

In August, 1987, Judge Thompson dismissed the case against Crabtree and scolded the U. S. attorney’s office for filing the charge. The judge said prosecutors had no legal basis for pressing the case and ruled it was the agent’s unjustifiably aggressive conduct that provoked the confrontation.

Prosecutors, however, appealed Thompson’s ruling to a federal appellate court. In May, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the charge against Crabtree, ruling that Thompson exceeded his authority when he threw the indictment out before trial.

Still, the appeals court appeared to share Thompson’s feeling that the case was somewhat frivolous. Its opinion mildly chastised the U. S. attorney’s office and urged it to spend its time on “more meritorious prosecutions.”

From the start, both Sheela and Crabtree maintained that the case against the student was absurd. Their criticism of the government grew still more pointed when it was learned that the U. S. attorney’s office used another UCSD student working as an intern in the prosecutor’s office to compile information about Crabtree.

The intern wrote a term paper reporting on his investigation of Crabtree’s personal life, including details about who her friends were and whether they had committed any “deviant acts.” The student also was assigned to refute Crabtree’s claim that she was taking pictures at the May 14 demonstration for a leftist newspaper, the new indicator.

“Everything that I found was used as evidence, which gave me a feeling of satisfaction,” the intern later wrote in a term paper, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

After the intern’s role was disclosed, a faculty advisory board that reviews undergraduate internships began studying whether explicit guidelines should be developed to govern programs in prosecutorial offices.

Under the agreement reached Monday, the government will formally dismiss the case against Crabtree on Sept. 11, 1989, if she violates no federal, state or local laws--with the exception of minor traffic infractions--between now and then.

Sheela said both he and his client were tempted to take the case to trial “to see how a jury would react to the government’s conduct” but decided it was “not worth forcing Kristen and her friends to have their lives microscopically examined in public.”

“This case has been nothing but a black eye for the government, starting with that FBI agent, who used very, very poor judgment,” Sheela said. “After that, they hired one student to spy on another. . . . It was really a witch hunt.”