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Judge clears man who infiltrated anti-war group

Jun. 19, 2014 - 04:06PM   |  
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TACOMA, WASH. — A federal judge dismissed a civil rights lawsuit filed against a man who infiltrated an anti-war protest group in Olympia and gave information to the Army and other authorities.

John Towery had legitimate safety concerns in 2007 when he attended meetings of the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance while he worked for the force protection division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Judge Ronald B. Leighton said in his ruling Wednesday.

The judge found that Towery did not chill political speech, invade the privacy of protesters or influence police, The Olympian reported.

Larry Hildes, a lawyer for the group that tried to block shipments of Army equipment to the Iraq War, said he will appeal the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Leighton's decision "fundamentally compromises the Constitution," Hildes said.

Towery unfairly targeted protesters because of their political views and violated the law that bars the military from law enforcement on U.S. soil, Hildes said.

Lawyer Tom Brennan, who represents Towery, said the ruling confirmed his client acted lawfully.

It is not unlawful for undercover informants working in law enforcement to hide their identity, even when questioned by people they are investigating, Brennan said.

"Frankly, he was not a spy," the lawyer said. "He was concerned with making sure his office was aware of possible disruptive activity related to the Army. He was doing his job."

In addition to dismissing all of the federal civil rights claims against Towery, Leighton also threw out remaining claims against other defendants, including the Olympia and Tacoma police departments and Thomas Rudd, who was Towery's former boss at the base.

Members of the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance sued in 2010 after learning that Towery had infiltrated the group under an assumed name and monitored their activities.

They had protested at ports, trying to block Lewis-McChord from shipping Stryker vehicles and other Army equipment to Iraq. More than 60 members were arrested in a November 2007 protest at the Port of Olympia when convoys were blocked on roads.

Judge Leighton rejected the claim that Towery's intelligence on the protesters influenced the reaction of law enforcement, which he said would have responded to the protests in any case.

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