UC and FBI agree to $100,000 settlement with two Berkeley-based organizations

The University of California and the FBI reached a $100,000 settlement agreement last month with two Berkeley organizations that were raided by law enforcement officers in 2008.

On Aug. 27, 2008, officers entered the offices of the Long Haul and the East Bay Prisoner Support group on Shattuck Avenue after UCPD obtained a search warrant to investigate “a series of threatening emails” sent to animal researchers at UC Berkeley that were traced to an IP address assigned to the Long Haul, according to the settlement approved March 29.

Officers from UCPD, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI forced entry into the building the two organizations share and seized computers and digital storage media, according to a lawsuit filed by the organizations in January 2009. An investigation conducted by UCPD into the emails showed there was no evidence of criminal activity on the part of either of the groups, according to the settlement.

According the settlement, the UC Board of Regents will pay the groups $75,000 and the United States will pay them $25,000. Of the money, $98,450 is for attorney’s fees and costs and the remaining amount is for actual statutory damages. The university will also destroy the data on the hard drives obtained by UCPD.

In the lawsuit, the organizations claimed the warrant was improper because it authorized search of areas and seizure without probable cause and did not specifically describe the place that was to be searched or things to be seized.

The warrant allowed for the search and seizure of documents containing names or identifying information of people who used the computers at the Long Haul, the lawsuit said. It also allowed officers to move the seized computers to another location so they could search them.

“We believe that UCPD properly obtained and executed the search on Long Haul, based on the best information officers had at that time,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email. “We are pleased that all parties were able to reach an amicable solution and avoid costly litigation.”

The Long Haul is an “all volunteer collective that provides a lending library, a bookstore, Internet-connected computers, and a community space for members of the public,” according to the lawsuit.

The East Bay Prisoner Support group — which is unaffiliated with the Long Haul but occupies an office in the same building — publishes a newsletter of prisoners’ writing to the general public and distributes literature to prisoners, according to the lawsuit.

Some of the seized electronics were used to produce a newspaper published by the Long Haul. In the settlement, UCPD acknowledged that because the Long Haul was publishing the newspaper, the Privacy Protection Act prohibited the seizure of protected work materials related to the distribution of the publication. UCPD denied knowing this at the time of the raid and has implemented privacy training for its officers in response.