After 11 Years, Jury Vindicates Earth First Pair

Bari Case Blows Up On Agency Federal Bureau Of Instigation

Earth First!er Judi Bari avenged at last

After 11 Years, Jury Vindicates Earth First Pair

FBI, Oakland officers must pay $4.4 million for civil rights abuses

by Jim Herron Zamora

Five years ago, Judi Bari lay on her deathbed still saying the FBI had framed her as an eco-terrorist. A jury agreed Tuesday and awarded her estate $2.9 million.

In one of the biggest civil rights verdicts of its kind, a federal jury said FBI agents and Oakland police officers must pay $4.4 million in damages to Bari's estate and fellow Earth First organizer Darryl Cherney. The two forest activists were injured in a 1990 car bombing in Oakland and investigated as eco-terrorists. Bari died of cancer in 1997.

The jury unanimously found six federal agents and police officers liable for violating the pair's constitutional rights to free speech and protection from unlawful searches. They argued that the investigation, which has never cleared them as suspects, undermined their credibility and hurt their ability to promote forest preservation.

An attorney for the FBI agents said the government, which had fought for 11 years to keep the case from going to trial, indicated that an appeal is likely.

Attorneys for Cherney and Bari's estate said the verdict should serve as a warning as the FBI seeks broader powers for domestic spying in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The jury showed the rest of America that even in the face of brutal terrorism we cannot discard the very civil liberties that make the country great," said attorney J. Tony Serra.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ordered the 10-person jury not to talk publicly about the case until after appeals are completed. Outside court, six of the jurors smiled and nodded as they walked past a group of Earth First supporters, who gave them a standing ovation.

Cherney and Bari were injured when a pipe bomb exploded in Bari's Subaru station wagon while they were driving along Park Boulevard in Oakland on May 24, 1990. Bari, who was at the wheel, suffered a crushed pelvis, and Cherney received cuts from the blast.

The two, who were on their way to speak at a rally to promote Redwood Summer, were arrested within hours, and their homes and vehicles were searched.

Authorities then said they believed that Bari and Cherney were carrying the bomb in her car and that it detonated accidentally.

Cherney and Bari later sued investigators, alleging false arrest, illegal search, slanderous statements and conspiracy.


The verdict followed a five-week trial in Oakland federal court and 18 days of deliberations over whether authorities unfairly targeted the activists as suspects in the blast. The two were arrested in the bombing but later freed for lack of evidence.

The jury found six of seven defendants liable for civil rights violations. They are retired FBI agents Frank Doyle, John Reikes, Phil Sena; Oakland police Sgt. Robert Chenault; retired Oakland police Sgt. Michael Sitterud; and former Oakland Lt. Mike Sims, now with the Tracy Police Department. The jury cleared retired agent Stockton Buck.

The trial revealed contradictions between FBI investigators and the agency's crime lab over whether the bomb was visible to the car's passengers before it detonated. The trial also showed that investigators wrongly stated that round-topped nails used in the pipe bomb were the same as flat-headed nails used by Bari in her carpentry job.

The officers said they were heavily influenced by FBI agents who came to the bombing scene and said Bari and Cherney were tied to domestic terrorism. FBI agents, meanwhile, maintain that it was Oakland police who pushed for the swift arrests and misrepresented their findings.

Of the $2.9 million in damages for Bari's estate, $1.3 million is punitive and $1.6 million compensatory.

The jury said Cherney should receive $650,000 in punitive damages and $850, 000 in compensatory damages.

The trial had been scheduled for Oct. 1 but was postponed because attorneys feared the jury would be swayed by favorable feelings toward law enforcement after the terrorist attacks.

"The American public needs to understand that the FBI can't be trusted," Cherney said. "Ten jurors got a good, hard look at the FBI and they didn't like what they saw."


Joseph Sher, attorney for four FBI agents named as defendants in the case, said, "It's too early to talk about appeal." Earlier in court, he signaled that the federal government would probably appeal an unfavorable verdict.

Assistant Oakland City Attorney Maria Bee said she was "disappointed" at the verdict and the award of $2 million against three Oakland police investigators.

"I believe that the verdict is inconsistent with the evidence," Bee said. "The Oakland police don't have anything to apologize for. My position remains - - despite the jury's verdict --that what they did was reasonable."

Although the judgments are against the agents and officers as individuals, government agencies generally cover punitive awards, Bee said. By law, public agencies must cover compensatory damages against law enforcement officers who act within the scope of their duties.

The verdict is larger than similar decisions and settlements in which political activists sued the FBI and local police for civil rights violations, according to plaintiff's attorney Robert Bloom.

In 1981, a jury awarded Julius Hobson and several other civil rights activists $711,000 for harassment by the FBI and Washington, D.C., police. That verdict later was reduced to $46,000.

Bloom noted that other big cases with political overtones settled by the FBI often involved loss of life. In 1995, the FBI paid $3.1 million to the family of Vicki Weaver, who was killed three years earlier at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. The family of of Black Panther Fred Hampton, killed during a FBI raid in 1969, received $1.85 million.

To this day, Cherney is angry that he and Bari have never been cleared.

"We lived for years under the cloud of suspicion. . . . We waited a long time for the chance to show our innocence," Cherney said. "I think the government owes us an apology.

In a videotaped deposition taken just before her death, Bari compared her situation with that of an Atlanta security guard who was wrongly accused of a bombing during the 1996 Olympics.

"I felt some bitterness when Richard Jewell was given a public exoneration, " Bari said.

Chronicle staff writer Henry K. Lee contributed to this report.


Bari Case Blows Up On Agency Federal Bureau Of Instigation

by James Ridgeway

Anyone who buys the line that the FBI's bad old days ended with the death of J. Edgar Hoover can think again. Take one look at the scarcely believable tale of how the agency set up the environmental activist Judi Bari when her car exploded in May 1990 in Oakland.

This month, a federal court awarded a total of $4.4 million in damages to Bari's estate (she died of cancer in 1997) and to passenger Darryl Cherney. The pair had charged local police and the FBI with a gross violation of civil rights. The verdict repeatedly singled out the senior agent on the scene for his outrageous behavior.

The story goes like this: On the morning of May 24, 1990, a pipe bomb exploded directly under the driver's seat, shattering Bari's pelvis and lower backbone and leaving her permanently disabled. Cherney suffered minor injuries. The two were on a tour to recruit students for Redwood Summer, a series of protests against corporate logging. Bari awoke 12 hours later to policemen telling her she was under arrest for possessing explosives. They, of course, had not bothered even to question her. Bari had received death threats in the weeks before, but the FBI never followed up.

In the beginning, the cops claimed Bari and Cherney had themselves put the bomb in the back seat, where it accidentally went off. However, files released during the court proceedings revealed that when supervisory special agent David R. Williams-the FBI crime lab's top explosives expert-inspected the car, he pointed out to special agent Frank Doyle evidence clearly showing the device had been stowed under the driver's seat. Yet Doyle continued to tell the press that Bari and Cherney were the only suspects.

Throughout their sworn testimony, the FBI agents repeatedly said that they never heard of Bari or Cherney before the bombing, and that they were not investigating Earth First!, to which the activists belonged.

But an FBI field report, written minutes after the bomb exploded, states that Bari and Cherney were "the subjects of an FBI investigation in the terrorist department." Cherney-Bari lawyers used these facts to argue that the FBI agents lied in their sworn testimony before the court.

The history of the FBI's involvement with Earth First! is lengthy and disgusting. Before Bari's car blew up, the Bureau was in the final phases of Thermcon, an Arizona sting that involved 50 agents and was aimed at casting Dave Foreman, co-founder of the group, as a terrorist who made use of explosives. The FBI managed to infiltrate a small chapter of Earth First!, and having successfully planted an agent inside, tried to push the environmentalists into using thermite to take out a power line. But, as the alternative Albion Monitor relates the story: "The activists declined the infiltrator's offer of explosives, and he settled for providing them with a cutting torch instead. The agent provided the equipment, trained the activists to use it, chose the target, and drove them to the site, then joined an FBI strike team in busting them in the act on May 31, 1989. The case ended in plea bargaining with two activists-not Foreman-going to jail.

Several of the agents involved in Thermcon also worked on the Bari bombing, reports the Albion Monitor. FBI records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act indicate that the FBI had been spying on Earth First! since the group started in 1981. The paper reports that "heavily censored" FBI documents made available through Bari's suit detail weekly meetings in 1990 between an agent and informant in California.

Local law enforcement has been just as invasive. In his deposition, Oakland Police Department intelligence chief Kevin Griswold revealed that the cops maintain files on 300 political organizations and individuals. He said the Oakland cops had been spying on Earth First! ever since 1984.


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