Above: Protester bangs on a the FDC sign at a noise demonstration in solidarity with the grany-jury resisters.
Grand Jury Update: Three Olympia activists are being held in solitary confinement at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center despite that they have not actually been charged for a crime. Kteeo Olejinik, Matt Duran, and Maddy Pfeiffer are in prison for civil contempt of court after refusing to testify before a grand jury they argue is targeting them for their political associations. At the time of print, none of their attorneys have been told why their clients are in solitary or when they can be expected to be removed.
Matt and Kteoo were held in the solitary housing unit (SHU) when they were initially imprisoned in September but were later removed for several weeks to join the general prison population. When Maddy was taken into custody on December 26, the FDC moved Matt and Kteoo back to solidarity for unclear reasons.
For his first two weeks in prison in the SHU, Matt was held in single-cell room for 23 hours day and had no real human interactions outside of receiving meals, according to his attorney, Kim Gordon. His brief time out of the cell came when he was allowed to be in a slightly bigger room to exercise alone.
When I asked whether the use of solitary confinement was normal in cases of grand jury resisters, Matt’s attorney Kim Gordon explained that it was difficult to know what is “normal” given the secrecy of grand jury cases.
This is the second time Matt has been placed in the SHU. The first time he was held in solitary, the FDC told him it was supposed to help him transition into prison, since he had no prior experience being in custody. However, this time around, the FDC has provided no explanation for his move to the SHU.
“I have had many clients who have been arrested and charged with federal crimes for the first time in their lives and they’re not in put solitary confinement,” Gordon remarked, “based on my experience, I find it to be unique.”
Kteeo says she has little fresh air and space in solitary confinement and is only permitted one phone call a month, according to her letter published on the website of the support group, the Committee Against Political Repression (CAPR).
“Prison is incredibly f***ed up even at the best of times, but that doesn’t mean people can’t create community within these circumstances,” she wrote. “When I was in my unit I was part of a community. I gave support and received support. But I am no longer in that unit, no longer in that community.”
The Olympia trio could be joined by another activist from Portland named Kerry Cunneen who announced in early January that they will also resist their subpoena to appear before the grand jury. [ Ed. Note: Kerry and Maddy prefer the gender-neutral pronoun they/their rather than he/she.]
Kerry originally received the subpoena on December 14, the same day that Maddy was charged with civil contempt of court, and was told to appear just five days later to testify. Their lawyer successfully had the date moved back to January 5. When the date came, Kerry refused to even step foot in the grand jury hearing room, according to CAPR.
“I will not cooperate with this grand jury nor will I in any way aid the state in its efforts to imprison people,” Kerry wrote in a statement.
It is unclear whether Kerry will also be charged with civil contempt of court and taken into custody. Their lawyer declined to comment on the story.
Many of the attorneys involved said they expect more people to be subpoenaed in the near future. According to Maddy’s attorney, Robert Flennaugh, the government is in talks with a small group of people who have not actually received subpoenas.The idea is to gain information from these people without actually bringing them before the grand jury. Flennaugh also said they expect a number of indictments to emerge from the grand jury process, although it’s unclear who is being targeted or when the charges will be passed down.
At least six people received subpoenas to appear before a grand jury investigating damage inflicted on a federal courthouse by a group of black bloc protesters in Seattle last May Day. In official statements, the US attorney’s office has asserted that it does not target people for their political associations.
But at least three of the subpoenaed activists—Matt, Kteeo, and Leah-Lynn Plante—weren’t in Seattle when the crime took place. All three are outspoken anarchists however, and supporters suspect they were subpoenaed because they might know information about the protesters who committed the crime.
Adding to their argument of the political nature of the grand jury, supporters point to temporarily unsealed documents which revealed that the FBI monitored a group of activists before the May Day rally, followed their car to the protest, and intercepted text messages.
“The US government has drones and jets, but they don’t have time machines,” joked defense attorney Robert Flennuagh at Maddy’s contempt hearing. He paused, “So how come the investigation started before May Day?”
“The FBI has the authority to conduct an investigation when it has reasonable grounds to believe that an individual has engaged in criminal activity or is planning to do so,” Ayn Dietrich, a spokesperson for the FBI said an official statement. Dietrich didn’t respond to questions about what led the agency to believe that these activists would commit a crime however.
Out of the more than fifty questions the US attorney asked Kteeo during her grand jury hearing, only four were related to May Day, according to an interview in The Stranger.
Larry Hildes, member of the National Lawyers Guild and attorney for another subpoenaed activist from Portland, said he didn’t think it was a coincidence that Kteeo was asked about her activities in a local anti-war group, Port Militarization Resistance (PMR). Hildes is also representing activists involved in a lawsuit against a military informant from Ft. Lewis, John Towery. In 2009, public records requests revealed Towery was spying on members of the Olympia PMR, something that Hildes argues is illegal since military personnel aren’t supposed to engage in law enforcement. For Hildes, the PMR case, along with the current Pacific Northwest grand jury, is just “another facet in this relentless, and inappropriate and unconstitutional attack and spying on the left.”
Lauren Regan, attorney of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, Oregon who has been closely following the case, argued that the Pacific Northwest grand jury was part of pattern of criminalizing activists. She cited recent examples of the government targeting environmental activists as “terrorists” under the purview of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which criminalizes conduct that interferes with or damages animal enterprises.
“Up until that point there had never been a governmental attempt to use that type of [terrorist] enhancement against anyone who did not cause the death of a human being or weren’t going after massive infrastructure like the Oklahoma City bombing,” she pointed out. “The government is trying to create a mountain out of a mole hill; it’s trying to create terrorists out of activists,” she argued.
Hildes elaborated, “When you’re looking at millions of activists as potential terrorists, you are gravely missing the actual violent terrorists under your nose.“
Marissa Luck is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to Works in Progress. When not reporting on local issues, she works as a content director at a web-design firm. Marissa graduated from Evergreen with an emphasis in political economy and international studies. Contact her via Twitter@marissaluck7 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find more background information on the grand jury cases online at www.olywip.org.