Police Demand DNA from Activist as Scare Tactic

June 11th, 2006 - by admin

Jen Fish / Portland Press Herald – 2006-06-11 23:20:05


PORTLAND, Oregon (June 9, 2006 ) — An environmental activist said Thursday he refused to give state police a sample of his DNA, calling the request an attempt to intimidate people and a possible violation of his civil rights.

Jim Freeman, a member of Earth First!, said he was among the dozen environmental activists in Maine asked to provide samples of their DNA as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

Freeman said he was approached by a forensic specialist working for the Maine State Police. The specialist, he said, was working with police to inventory camp equipment confiscated by police in April after Earth First! attempted a protest campout on Sears Island.

Freeman said police initially told him his DNA was wanted as part of an ongoing investigation into a broken padlock on Sears Island. Freeman said after more questions, police told him the investigation was actually related to the vandalism incidents at Plum Creek.

Earth First! and other environmental groups have staunchly opposed the planned develop- ment around Moosehead Lake by the Seattle-based Plum Creek Timber Co. Last November, vandals hurled rocks, paint, and animal feces at five homes and businesses connected with Plum Creek in four different towns.

Freeman said he knows nine of the 12 people police asked to provide DNA samples. “We feel this is just trying to scare us, it has more to do with that than a true investigation,” he said.

Steve McCausland, public safety spokesman, said Thursday that the request made by police “was totally voluntary,” and that two people did provide DNA samples. He said police are not disclosing the names of people who were asked and he also declined to specify what investigation the request was connected to.

While it appears that police did not coerce people or do anything illegal in asking for DNA, the request is troubling to some who question the civil rights implications of collecting DNA samples from people who have not been charged with a crime.

“We believe law enforcement doesn’t have the right to collect your DNA without a warrant,” said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties. “Environmentalists have a right to criticize the state’s policies without fear that it will lead to intimidation or visits to their home and collection of DNA.”

Jonathan Carter, director of the Forest Ecology Network and a vocal opponent of Plum Creek, said police have not approached him and if they did, he would not give them his DNA. “This is Big Brother and I think there’s some real civil liberties issues being comprised,” he said.

Rep. Janet Mill, D-Farmington, who opposed an eco-terrorism bill debated by the Legislature, said Thursday that she hoped police had valid reasons for requesting the samples.

“If (police) had probable cause, they could have obtained a a search warrant,” she said. “If they didn’t have probable cause, then it sounds like a fishing expedition.”

Chuck Dow, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said ultimately the courts will decide if people’s rights were violated, but the case is not even close to that point.

Philip Worden, an attorney representing some of the people asked to provide DNA, also likened the request to a fishing expedition.

“My own main concern isn’t just with the people that were asked,” Worden told the Associated Press. “It’s the chilling effect on everybody else. If you get the idea that just because somebody attended a legal environmental meeting, that by doing that the state police might show up at your doorstep, ask for a DNA sample as though you might be suspected of some sort of terrorist activity . . . that’s going to scare people.”

Freeman said he has not decided whether to take legal action against state police.

But he said the request will not have a chilling effect, and may even galvanize more people to join the cause.

“We’re not going to be intimidated by this,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Staff Writer Jen Fish can be contacted at 282-8229 or at: jfish@pressherald.com Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

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