Bad Cop Blotter

The Department of Homeland Security Helped Itself to a Journalist’s Documents

By Lucy Steigerwald

Ha, remember this project of the DHS? Photo via Flickr user Derek Purdy

In a story first reported by the Daily Caller last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Maryland State police recently seized some documents from investigative reporter Audrey Hudson without so much as a piece of paper saying they could take her stuff. On August 6, according to the journalist, six or seven cops in full body armor showed up at the door of her Shady Side, Maryland, home at 4:30 AM. They had a warrant and were looking for illegal weapons possessed by Hudson’s husband Paul Flanagan, who was convicted of resisting arrest back in 1986 and so is prohibited from owning a gun. Investigators with the Coast Guard (which falls under DHS domain during peacetime) reportedly joined Maryland police in the search because Flanagan was a Coast Guard employee. In any case, they turned up only weapons registered to Hudson. No one was breaking the law, so they left.

Except when they left they took five files belonging to Hudson that they found during the course of their search. These documents were not named in the warrant, nor was Hudson under investigation herself. A Coast Guard spokesman told the Washington Post that some of the documents were marked with “For Official Use Only” and “Law Enforcement Sensitive” labels and therefore appeared out of place. Suspicious-looking or not, the documents weren’t classified and were in fact legally obtained by Hudson through Freedom of Information Act requests. A month after the raid, the documents were returned after confirmation that Hudson was permitted to have them after all, which was also the first time the cops told Hudson what they had taken—she said she was only aware that “miscellaneous documents” had been taken during that time. Hudson said that some of her handwritten notes were in those files and that this seizure exposed the names of whistleblowers who had helped her when she was reporting on the government’s overstating the number of Air Marshals protecting US commercial flights. She also claimed that Miguel Bosch—a former air marshal who is now a Coast Guard investigator—asked if she was the same Audrey Hudson who had reported on Air Marshals in the past for the Washington Times.

“This guy basically came in here and took my anonymous sources and turned them over—took my whistle-blowers—and turned it over to the agency they were blowing the whistle on,” Hudson told the Daily Caller. “And these guys still work there.”

The Coast Guard seems to be pretty relaxed about the whole thing, at least the parts they have confirmed so far—the spokesperson reached by the Post said officials named the documents seized on their forms and did it all properly from a bureaucratic standpoint. But why take them at all? What the hell is the Coast Guard (or the DHS, or local cops) doing glancing at some documents and going, “Hmmm, these don’t seem to belong here, better take them without telling their owner”? America is apparently a country where the Associated Press is wiretapped with Department of Justice approval, where media shield laws are designed to only protect only certain types of journalists. The incident described by Hudson sounds like more evidence that the First (and the Fourth) Amendments are not terribly important to a federal government paranoid about leaks.

Now, the rest of this week’s bad cops:

- More National Security Agency (NSA) secrets were revealed via Edward Snowden last week—this time, it appears that the US is spying on its European allies to a rather aggressive degree. This includes the tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone between 2002 and 2010. The NSA denied reports circulating in German media that President Obama knew about this spying operation for years, which is inexplicably supposed to 1) Make us all feel better; and 2) Gel smoothly with the endless assurances that the agency’s spying has plenty of oversight. Obama totally stopped the spying this summer when he learned about it, however.

- Nearly two years have passed since photographs and footage of campus cop John Pike blithely pepper-spraying seated Occupy protesters at the University of California Davis made him internationally famous. The image of a law enforcement officer casually mistreating nonviolent protesters was shocking, and a lawsuit filed by the victims of his brutality led to each of them receiving about $30,000 from the university. But the story doesn’t end there—on October 16, a judge ruled that Pike was entitled to nearly $40,000 in worker’s compensation from UC Davis. He was (rightly) suspended after the incident and fired after eight months, but he claimed he was the victim, and that he suffered from anxiety and depression after his family received death threats. Death threats aren’t cool, but it seems bizarre that he’s so well compensated when he was the one who perpetrated violence on others.

- On Friday, a parole violator named Samuel Nathan Duran—reportedly a gang member with a long record—got into a shootout with police in Roseville, California, injuring a local cop and a federal immigration officer who attempted to bring him in after searching for him for ten days. This was clearly a situation that was going to be violent pretty much no matter what, and obviously the cops needed to use force to catch the guy. On the other hand, it’s unsettling that 15 houses were evacuated, that some residents waited for more than 24 hours before they were allowed to return home, and most of all that pictures like this one were a necessary part of the process of securing the safety of the 120,000 residents of Roseville.

- During the course of a Brazil, Indiana, police lecture on drug use and the power of police dogs to sniff out even a hint of illicit substances, a police dog named Max bit a fifth grader. The 11-year-old wasn’t severely injured during the October 17 incident, but he was taken to the hospital for small puncture wounds on his leg. The cops were showing the kids a “simulated raid” by placing a small amount of narcotics on one of the students and telling them all to stay still. The child’s mother wasn’t angry, but damn, maybe the cops should find a new way to show kids what K-9 teams do—in fact, maybe we don’t need to demonstrate the power and reach of the police state to children, period. Max has been placed on the dog version of administrative leave pending the results of various veterinary tests.

- Our Good Cop of the Week award goes to Miami police officer Vicki Thomas, who managed to enforce the law against theft while also being an admirable human being. Last month, Thomas responded to a call of shoplifting at a Publix grocery store where Jessie Robles, a mother of three, had just stolen almost $300 worth of food because she couldn’t feed her kids. Robles’s boyfriend had recently lost his job, and her federal assistance was stopped thanks to a clerical error. Officer Thomas told Robles to go to a church or food bank next time she was in such dire straits—but she also chose not to arrest the her. Instead she charged Robles with a misdemeanor and gave her an order to appear in court before purchasing $100 worth of groceries from the very same supermarket. As Thomas put it, “I made the decision to buy her some groceries because arresting her wasn't going to solve the problem with her children being hungry.” Her only stipulation was that Robles do something good for someone else the next time she was able to. Sniff.

Lucy Steigerwald is a freelance writer and photographer. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter: @lucystag

Previously: The Police Need to Lay Off the Mentally Ill

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