Watching the Detectives

Ostensibly neutral legal observers say they were selectively hassled during FTAA

Moss says the undercovers were there looking for a protester who had assaulted a police officer ("This guy sort of did a flying kick in the officer's face -- he looked like he'd been hit by a board in the face," Moss says). The undercovers believed the suspect might have been escorted away from police by legal observers, though they never caught him or confirmed that legal observers were involved in his escape, according to Moss; they were searching for him when Swanson started pointing them out to the crowd.

Swanson's action violated published NLG guidelines, although there seems to be some disagreement within the group over the incident. Executive director Heidi Boghosian says circumstances merited pointing out undercover police, while Steier says, "That's not in the training manual." The police, however, claim it put their lives in danger. "Approximately 30 protesters with their faces covered began to surround these officers" as Swanson pointed them out, according to the arrest report. Moss says the crowd charged the (armed) officers, who had to beat a hasty retreat. Swanson says the undercovers were obvious, and he was simply exercising his right to free speech.

That a confrontation occurred is not in dispute. Swanson says he was threatened, while Moss says the officers explained that he was endangering their lives and asked him not to take pictures or video of them.

Miles Swanson was charged with obstruction of justice for pointing out undercover police to a crowd of FTAA protesters
Courtesy of National Lawyers Guild
Miles Swanson was charged with obstruction of justice for pointing out undercover police to a crowd of FTAA protesters

Swanson was on Biscayne Boulevard later in the afternoon when protesters started throwing garbage and rocks at police. A few protesters started burning trash fires in the middle of the street. The cops began to clear the street, pushing back and pursuing protesters.

"We tried to get out of downtown, but there were police everywhere we went. It was very surreal," Swanson says.

Swanson was on Seventeenth Street and NE First Avenue when he ran into the undercover officers again. "An unmarked van with New York plates pulled up, and I knew it was cops as soon as it pulled up. Three officers in ski masks jumped out. They started hitting me, threw me to the ground, and hit me more." Swanson says the van carried some of the same five officers he'd noted earlier. "They said if I managed to get out of jail and they saw me again, they'd kill me. One of them said, 'Welcome to Miami. This is what you get for fucking with us.'"

Swanson was charged with five counts of obstructing justice, one for each officer he'd pointed out. The charges were later dropped to one count. How is pointing out the obvious a crime? "He knew that it would have caused a threat to these officers," says Moss. "There's a difference between saying 'Those guys are undercover' and directing people towards them."

That difference will likely be examined in a civil court hearing. Swanson entered a plea of no contest so he could get back to class at the University of the District of Columbia law school, but he hints at a pending lawsuit. "I'm definitely working with some groups looking into what happened."

For his part, Steier says Timoney and company can look forward to "probably one of the biggest pieces of civil-rights violation legislation in U.S. history."

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