Occupy Wall Street

Austin Police Infiltrate Occupy Austin, Help Transform Misdemeanors Into Felonies

The adventures of the undercover cops.

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"Usually I just work as a police sketch artist. It was nice to stretch my talents and make a protest poster for a change."

The Austin American-Statesman reports that city police infiltrated Occupy Austin last year, where they camped, marched, strategized, and

may have crossed a fine line in undercover police work: They helped plan and manufacture devices—often called "lockboxes"—that allowed Occupy members to tie themselves together during a protest in Houston, according to interviews and court records. The use of the devices, which makes it harder for police to break up human chains, resulted in Houston police filing felony charges against seven protesters who had attempted to block a port entrance in Houston on Dec. 12….

It's not clear who first proposed making the lockboxes. But during the hearing, attorneys and Austin Police Detective Shannon Dowell—who wore a long black beard and was known to Occupy members as "Butch"—disclosed that Dowell had purchased PVC pipe and other materials with Occupy Austin money and delivered the finished lockboxes to group members.

According to the newspaper, the felony charge relies on "an obscure statute that prohibits using a device that is manufactured or adapted for the purpose of participating in a crime." In other words, an undercover cop manufactured (and possibly proposed) the instruments that allowed prosecutors to charge protestors with a felony rather than merely a misdemeanor.

Another high point from the story:

During a hearing Monday, [the judge] expressed frustration at Dowell, who failed to bring records to court that [the defense attorney] had subpoenaed. Dowell said he lost a small computer drive containing photos when it apparently fell out of his pocket and into the gutter of a Houston hotel where he had stayed. He added that while he had sent and received emails related to the undercover operation from his work computer, they had been deleted.

Higher-ups at the Austin PD approved the infiltration effort but claim they weren't aware of the lockbox plan.

[Hat tip: Paul Krassner.]