Monday morning, hours after awaking to news that American spies and military had sneaked into Pakistan and assassinated someone accused of but never tried for horrible crimes, I was preparing to head downtown to the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building Building in Seattle to participate in a protest of federal meddling in state cannabis policy. I began emptying my wallet of all non-essentials (i.e., everything but a bit of cash and a lawyer’s business card), when I noticed my partner noticing my “arrest preparation” and reminded her and myself that I would be on my best behavior and was not going to be arrested, so I didn’t need to do any of that.
I arrived at the protest at about 12:20 and found around 40 people lining the street, chanting and carrying “DEA: Go away!” signs. I heard that a security guard had come outside earlier to tell protesters that they could not come onto federal property and were not allowed to photograph the building, going so far as to ask to review the images on my friend’s camera. “Huh. I don’t think there’s any such photo policy. I wish I’d been here to ask about it,” I said. The expressions of support from people driving by was uplifting, and the protest continued until about 1:45, dwindling to about a dozen people. I texted my partner, “Good showing. No arrests. Moving to DEA office soon.”
As we were packing up to leave, a cameraman from KCPQ-TV (Q13 in Seattle) arrived. I tried to tell him about the bizarre report of restriction of public photography, but he was focused on covering the protesters, and either didn’t hear me or wasn’t interested. A couple minutes later, a security guard came outside and spoke with him on the sidewalk for a few seconds, then headed back for the building. I assumed this was an intimidation tactic, and went over to ask what had been said. I was told he had requested press credentials.
Confident that no such credentials are required in order to film on the sidewalk, I got out my audio recorder, turned it on, and approached the guard to interview him about the situation. He was wearing a Paragon Systems uniform, and was armed with a handgun. We stopped to chat about halfway between the sidewalk and the building. He said that he had requested press credentials, and provided a non-explanation involving some “heightened security” mumbo-jumbo.
Moving on, I told him that I’d heard protesters had been told by security that photography of the building was prohibited. He said that such was only prohibited from “close to the building” and said that any photography was allowed from the sidewalk, but not from the plaza just inside the sidewalk. I explained my feelings about the ridiculous nature of policy that allows thousands of daily passers-by to observe, remember, and take notes on something, but not to photograph it. He basically said he was just doing his job, and told me that the real concern was the potential for people to photograph the “security equipment” behind him — through the enormous clear glass wall that comprises the front of the building. I said that I’d probably photographed that equipment earlier, as does everyone who photographs the building from the sidewalk, where he told me photography was allowed. He responded, “You shouldn’t have told me that. Now I have to keep you here.” He radioed for assistance. I asked his name. He said he’d be happy to provide it in a moment. I said I didn’t have a moment because I was leaving. He said, “No, you’re not,” and grabbed my backpack strap.
I yelled for help from the protesters, asking them to call the police and informing them that this man was not a police officer and was assaulting me. Concerned that the audio recording I was still making was likely going to be the best evidence of what happened (similar evidence is the primary reason I was found not guilty in Albuquerque a few months ago despite the lies of multiple Albuquerque Aviation Police Department officers), I shouted for someone to please come take it from me. One approached. Someone behind me said, “No, you don’t.” In a very calm and de-escalation-style voice, my friend said, “I am protecting his First Amendment rights. I am attempting to preserve evidence.” This was repeated just a bit before we handed off, she headed back to the crowd, and I was pushed to the ground and knelt upon by two people I later identified as private security guards.
I didn’t see what happened next, but I’m told a frenetic game of “hot potato” ensued as the recorder was tossed from one person to another with the keystone cops Paragon Systems guards chasing them around. Eventually, fellow Cannabis Defense Coalition board member Greg West caught it, not even knowing what it was or where it came from, and headed across the street with it. Soon thereafter, he thought better of the situation, tossed it into the air, and was tackled in the middle of the street by two security guards. They marched him into the building.
Restrained face-down on the brick plaza, my hands were cuffed behind my back. I heard Rachel Kurtz, CDC executive director and lawyer, say, “I’m his lawyer.” I shouted my partner’s phone number to her and asked her to call. The guards eventually lifted me and half dragged, half carried, me into the building, then put me down on the floor next to some sofas in the lobby. Somebody pulled my feet up like I was going to be hog-tied, but then didn’t do so.
After about a minute on the floor, I was lifted up and ordered to sit on the sofa. Greg sat handcuffed on a chair across from me. I could hear protesters chanting “Let him go!” outside. A dozen or so security guards and Department of Homeland Security police milled around the lobby, looking outside, conferring with each other, and talking on radios and telephones. One held my voice recorder, shrugged, and told another, “It keeps turning on and off.” I was disappointed that they had it, but happy that they were unable to operate it.
A man in Homeland Security police uniform approached me. He said, “I need your ID.” Avoiding the obvious response (“Your needs are not my primary concern right now.”), I responded by providing my identity, “Phillip Mocek.” He said, “No, I need ID. Do you have a driver’s license?” I said, “I’m going to remain silent. I’d like to speak with an attorney.” He said, “So how are we going to tell if you’re who you say you are?” I told him that my attorney was just outside the door and said nothing else. Another officer, Mr. Sartain, removed my wallet from my back pocket, examined its content, and removed my Washington State Driver License (which I was carrying for no good reason other than the symbolism of my belief that no one would be riffling through my wallet that day), and clipped it to his chest. The first officer told me I was being arrested “for obstruction.” I remained silent.
About 10 minutes later, two officers led me to the elevator, to the fifth floor, and into a holding cell (carpeted — federal luxury). Officer Sartain followed me in, told me to face the wall, and to spread my legs. “It’s like being at the airport,” I said (no response) before spreading them to a bit more than shoulder width. “Wider,” he said, so I did the splits. “Not that far,” he barked. I got nervous at this point. Adjusting to about halfway between seemed to satisfy him. He frisked me, asked if I was carrying anything dangerous (“Just a 1.5 inch blade folded in a small multi-tool on my keychain.”), emptied my pockets, removed and searched my shoes, and ordered me to sit on the bench. He took a camera and my wallet, and left the rest in a plastic bag on the bench across from me.
It’s foolish to say anything to police officers when they’re trying to build a case against you (which is just about any time they interact with you), so I was very careful not to say anything, but I did respond to, “Do you like your Blackberry?” with “It’s a Treo: Old, and cheap. It’s great.” In retrospect, I realize I should not have indicated that it was my own phone. It’s very easy to convince yourself that friendly chatter will help the situation, even when you know that it rarely will. I didn’t say a word about what had happened outside. I told them that I had already told them my name and would tell them my address. Officer Sartain was already looking at my driver license and writing, so I told him that the address on the license was correct. The other pulled out one of my business cards (which list no business) and said, “So you’re self-employed?” “I’m going to remain silent. I’d like to talk to an attorney.” “Just asking. I’m not trying to trick you.” I didn’t say more.
After five minutes or so, officer #2 came back in the cell, sat across from me, and said, “So, are you going to tell me what happened, or continue to remain silent? It’s your right to do so.” I said, “I’m going to remain silent. My lawyer would be very upset if I spoke with you without her present. Thank you for acknowledging my right.” He was generally friendly, said something about this not being a quiz, and walked back out. The two officers spoke a bit about the citation one was preparing. More than once, I heard, “That’s a mandatory.” Officer #2 powered on the digital camera that had been in my pocket and appeared to view the images on it.
Officer #2 left for a few minutes. Shortly after he returned, Officer Sartain asked if I would sign the paperwork he was preparing. I started to ask if I was required to do so, he said it would just be an acknowledgement that I’d received the document, and assuming this was like the typical situation when a police officer cites someone, I responded affirmatively. The other one ordered me up, walked me to the counter behind which the first stood. Sartain photographed me with a small blue device that appeared from the back to be a smart phone. Handcuffs were removed, I read the citation (for violation of 41 C.F.R. § 102-74.385), expressed concern with the empty boxes and asked permission to cross through them before signing, watched Officer Sartain do it for me (no court date set), and signed it. They had me step back in the cell to put my shoes on, then returned all of my property which came upstairs with us — including the audio recorder, which is physically damaged, but functional.
“Am I free to go, now?” “Yes, but we have to take you downstairs.” We went down the elevator. I walked into the lobby, saw Rachel and another protester, Evan, in the area where Greg and I had been seated, picked up the backpack the security guards had removed from my back outside then left in the lobby while I was taken upstairs, and headed for the door. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or do anything but get off the property. I did so, without incident.
We went to a coffee shop nearby to regroup. I opened my backpack to find that things had been rearranged while it was out of my possession. I didn’t notice anything missing. Concerned for my privacy, I was happy that my laptop is configured to keep my entire home directory encrypted.
I’m now represented by Sean Cecil in this matter.
Video taken by my friend Pam at the protest:
Report broadcast by KCPQ-TV:
The citation I was issued:
Mocek US District Court Violation Notice 2011-05-02 (PDF; 1.3 MB)
Federal Protective Services (DHS Police) bulletin HQ-IB-012-2010, describing the public right to photograph the exterior of federal buildings:
DHS FPS Bulletin HQ-IB-012-2010 (PDF; 756 KB)
UPDATE: Case dismissed! On September 30, 2011, my attorney and I met with the Assistant U.S. Attorney assigned to the case. She explained that May 2 had been a tense day for federal employees, that photography had not been a problem but disobeying an order had, that she had mistakenly dismissed Greg’s case at our arraignments without knowing that mine was associated, and that she was dismissing my case.