FBI Exonerates Ore. Attorney

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Times Staff Writers

An Oregon lawyer arrested in connection with the Madrid train bombings was cleared of all wrongdoing Monday after the FBI determined it had misidentified a fingerprint on a bag of detonators.

A federal judge in Portland, Ore., threw out the case against Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim convert, who was arrested May 6 and held as a material witness in the bombings that killed 191 people and injured 2,000 others. He was the first American linked to the attack.

Spanish authorities last week identified the print as belonging to an Algerian man.

“Due to the misidentification by the FBI of a fingerprint, the court orders the material witness proceeding dismissed,” read a statement posted by U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones on the federal court’s website.


The FBI issued a highly unusual apology to Mayfield on Monday, blaming the error on a substandard digital image provided by Spanish authorities.

At a news conference in Oregon, Mayfield described his ordeal as “harrowing,” “embarrassing,” and “humiliating”; he hinted that he might sue the government, whose actions had “blown my [legal] practice completely apart.”

In a long and sometimes emotional statement, Mayfield compared the federal government to Nazi Germany in its treatment of him and other Muslims.

“I’ve been singled out and discriminated against because, I feel, I am a Muslim,” he said, adding that there were other “material witnesses languishing away” in jails and detention centers nationwide.

But Karin Immergut , U.S. attorney for the District of Oregon, on Monday said that neither the computer database system nor the FBI analysts knew at the time they identified the print as Mayfield’s that he was a Muslim. “Although there has been some concern ... that Mr. Mayfield was singled out because of his religious beliefs, I can assure you that that is not true,” she said.

Mayfield, 37, was critical Monday of the Patriot Act and the material witness statute under which he was held. The statute -- much used since the Sept. 11 attacks -- allows the government to indefinitely hold anyone considered a flight risk who may have testimony relevant to a terror investigation.


Mayfield also decried the use of “sneak-and-peak” searches, where government agents break into a home but are under no obligation to tell the owners. Such searches are allowed under the Patriot Act. Mayfield said he believed his home was subjected to such searches on at least two occasions before his arrest.

Mayfield said what happened to him could -- in today’s “climate of fear” -- happen to anybody. He said he and his family had been traumatized, especially his two youngest children, ages 10 and 12. He and his wife, Mona, also have a 15-year-old.

“I’m now two or three days out of the detention center, and I’m just now stopping to shake,” Mayfield said.

He was released from the Multnomah County Detention Center on Thursday, the same day that Spanish authorities announced the fingerprint found on a bag conclusively matched that of an Algerian man who was a resident of Spain.

For weeks, there had been disagreement between Spanish and American investigators over the print. Unnamed U.S. officials had said the print belonged to Mayfield, while Spanish police expressed doubt early on about the alleged match.

In Washington, D.C., the FBI issued a prepared statement apologizing to Mayfield and his family “for the hardships that this matter has caused.”


It added that the agency planned to ask “an international panel of fingerprint experts” to review its work in the case, and that it was considering adopting new guidelines for fingerprint examiners.

The bureau said that the original link to Mayfield was based on a digital image of a partial print provided by Spanish authorities after the March attacks. The FBI said it later sent two fingerprint examiners to Madrid.

“Upon review, it was determined that the FBI identification was based on an image of substandard quality, which was particularly problematic because of the remarkable number of points of similarity between Mr. Mayfield’s prints and the print details in the images submitted to the FBI,” the bureau said.


Tizon reported from Seattle and Schmitt from Washington. Times researcher Lynn Marshall in Seattle contributed to this report.