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Originally published December 14, 2012 at 8:30 PM | Page modified December 15, 2012 at 6:23 PM

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May Day protest witness won't testify, contempt charge looms

Another witness in the federal grand jury investigation into the May Day protests appears on his way to federal detention for refusing to testify

Seattle Times staff reporter

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An Olympia man who has refused to testify before a federal grand jury investigating vandalism and violence at Seattle's May Day protest was given until the day after Christmas to testify or report to the SeaTac Federal Detention Center to serve a sentence of up to 18 months for contempt.

Matthew Pfeiffer, 23, refused to say whether he would change his mind as he left a federal courtroom in Seattle on Friday amid a throng of friends, family and supporters.

Pfeiffer is the fourth witness who has refused to testify after being subpoenaed by a grand jury empaneled to investigate vandalism that occurred at the William Kenzo Nakamura U.S. Courthouse on Fifth Avenue.

The investigation, being run by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, has issued at least five search warrants and has involved agents in two states. One of the search warrants was obtained by The Seattle Times before it was sealed and revealed that some members of a so-called "black bloc" anarchist group were being watched by investigators in Oregon even before the May Day protests.

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones rejected an argument that publication of some details in that warrant by The Times in October showed that grand-jury secrecy had been breached and that Pfeiffer had legitimate cause to fear retribution if he did testify.

Pfeiffer's attorney, Robert Flennaugh II, also argued the U.S. Attorney's Office was misusing the grand-jury process by threatening his client with jail. Flennaugh said that Pfeiffer was being persecuted for his associations, in violation of his First Amendment rights.

"It's not illegal to be an anarchist," he said.

Flennaugh said his client has made it clear that he does not intend to testify, and that attempts to make him do so, under threat of jail, amounts to punishment rather than truth-seeking.

But Jones said the grand jury hadn't opened the investigation to look into anyone's associations, but rather to find out who vandalized the federal courthouse.

He rejected Pfeiffer's plea and found him in contempt, but left the door open a crack to his pending detention. He told Pfeiffer that he could have until 9 a.m. Dec. 26, which is when he is supposed to turn himself in at the detention center. If at any time he changed his mind, the judge said, all he had to do was call the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"You hold the key to your freedom," Jones told Pfeiffer.

Three other grand-jury witnesses have also refused to testify and two of them, Katherine Olejnick and Matthew Duran, remain in custody. A third, Leah Lynn Plante, of Portland, was released after a week in detention. She has declined to discuss why.

Likewise, Pfeiffer declined to talk to a reporter on his way out of court Friday.

The grand jury is hearing evidence of a multistate federal investigation into a group of anarchists in Portland which came to the attention of the FBI in April.

The investigation appears focused on a group that drove from Portland to Olympia, and then on to Seattle and were involved in vandalizing a number of downtown properties, including the William Kenzo Nakamura U.S. Courthouse.

A statement attributed to Pfeiffer on the website www.nopoliticalrepression.wordpress.com said he was served with a subpoena on Oct. 25. He was scheduled to testify in November, but he refused.

"I am being asked to testify before a grand jury," he wrote. "The vultures of the state will try to imprison my comrades and me until we give in. We will never give in," the statement says. "I will never betray the people I care about, the ideas which I hold dear or the commitments I have made."

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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