ACLU protests UW police surveillance on student social-justice group
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday called on state lawmakers to forbid police from surveilling political and religious groups in the wake of a second recent report of spying on college students.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday called on state lawmakers to forbid police from surveilling political and religious groups following a second recent report of spying on college students.
Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, said during a news conference Thursday that a University of Washington police officer working undercover monitored two meetings of a campus group that was planning to hold demonstrations in support of school custodians. Two former students, members of the Student Workers Coalition, claim that UW police have been harassing their organization for months.
Taylor said that the ACLU obtained details about the UW police through a public-disclosure request filed in an effort to learn about police departments monitoring political and religious groups. The public-disclosure request was spurred by the case of a Philip Chinn, an anti-war activist from The Evergreen State College who reached a settlement with the State Patrol and two other law-enforcement agencies over allegations that officers engaged in political spying and harassment.
University of Washington Police Chief John Vinson and other top brass were rebuked by UW administrators for having the plainclothes officer monitor the student group. UW spokesman Norm Arkans said on Thursday that "this type of information gathering is not acceptable."
Arkans said that he didn't know why police were monitoring the coalition.
Vinson could not be reached for comment.
On April 8, Officer Tanesha van Leuven attended a meeting of the Student Workers Coalition and introduced herself as "Tani," Sarah White, a member of the student group, said during the news conference. Van Leuven did not tell coalition members that she was a campus patrol officer.
White believed "Tani" was a student who "was a genuinely committed social-justice advocate."
Several days later other coalition members saw "Tani" dressed in a police officer's uniform and getting out of a patrol car. They confronted her about failing to say she was a police officer and she was "unapologetic," said Salmun Kazerounian, another coalition member.
The Student Workers Coalition has been working to organize school custodial workers to protest job cuts, changes in hours and wages.
The ACLU, through its public-disclosure request, says it also learned that van Leuven eavesdropped on an earlier meeting of the Student Workers Coalition at a cafe on April 1. Notes about the meeting were turned over to her bosses, the ACLU said.
"We're calling for state legislators to curb these practices," Taylor said.
The ACLU backed two measures that did not pass the Legislature earlier this year. The bills, titled "Creating the Washington enhanced intelligence act," had a first reading in the House and passed into committee in the Senate.
The bills would have forbid authorities from collecting, maintaining or disseminating information about an individual or group's political or religious beliefs or activities, absent a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct.
Arkans said that he was aware of the ACLU news conference but said that the university has "addressed the issue" through conversations with the department.
"I think it was not characteristic of our department," Arkans said. "I think it was just an error in judgment and it partly resulted in the fact there is new leadership in the department. It is not going to happen again."
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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