Philip Chinn, Anti-War Protester and Subject of SW Cover Story, Awarded Attorney Fees for False Arrest

The U.S. District Court in Tacoma has made it official, awarding almost $250,000 in attorneys fees and costs to Olympia activist Philip Chinn, whose story was told in a Seattle Weekly cover story three weeks ago. It revealed a long pattern of infiltration and spying by military and local police to undermine the anti-war movement. The legal costs are in addition to $169,000 already given to Chinn by the three defendants - the Washington State Patrol, the City of Aberdeen, and Grays Harbor County - in a settlement of Chinn's claim of false arrest and violation of civil rights. Thus, a phony traffic stop of Chinn and others en route to a protest cost the state and local police - or rather, taxpayers - more than $400,000.

In approving payment for legal costs, the court called Chinn's claim "far more than a wrongful arrest case. Besides ordinary damages, it was an attempt to vindicate the plaintiff's civil rights, and involved issues of whether governmental agencies were unconstitutionally targeting and arresting protesters without probable cause." Though the settlement precluded a trial and verdict, the court said Chinn and the public could view the outcome as "some vindication of the plaintiff's position."

According to Chinn, represented by Bellingham attorney and activist Larry Hildes and attorneys Nathan Alexander, Mark Carlson, and Evan Schwab working pro bono for the ACLU, he was en route to protest military equipment movements at the Port of Grays Harbor in May 2007 when stopped near Montesano by a state trooper. Chinn said he was then wrongfully arrested for DUI.

He later learned troopers had been told Chinn was driving a car containing "three anarchists," including him. Chinn and his passengers were presumed to be "anarchists" based on covert surveillance by law enforcement officers that had included taking pictures of his car and his parents' car and distributing them over a police computer network. Chinn said the DUI charges were trumped up in order to prevent him from attending the anti-war rally; the charges were later dropped.

"There's no evidence that Mr. Chinn had broken any law or that there was any justification whatsoever for stopping him," said Hildes. ACLU executive director Kathleen Taylor said the case "sends a strong message to public officials around the state that they need to respect free speech rights and political dissent."

The intelligence on Chinn and other protesters was thought to have been distributed in part through the state patrol's Fusion Center - spy central in Seattle - working with local police and the the military. Fort Lewis has admitted that one of its intelligence agents infiltrated the Olympia protesters' ranks and fed intel to Army, state and local officials. A self-investigation of the incident is nearing completion, the Army says.

Government agencies should be restricted from using tactics such as the Chinn stop without reasonable suspicion of crime, says Taylor. The ACLU is backing legislation sponsored by Sen. Adam Kline and Rep. Sherry Appleton to curb the misconduct, she says.

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