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Justice Department: FBI May Have Violated Jewell's RightsBy Roberto Suro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 29, 1997; Page A03
The FBI agents who interrogated Richard Jewell in connection with the bombing at the Olympics in Atlanta last year made a "major error in judgment" and engaged in "constitutionally suspect" behavior that could have violated Jewell's rights, senior Justice Department officials said yesterday.
In his first public comments on the controversy, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh told a Senate hearing that he has since instructed the bureau's 11,000 agents not to use deceptive ploys in getting people to waive their constitutional rights.
At issue is a legally complex but everyday dilemma faced by law enforcement officers: If investigators are conducting a ruse to gain information from a suspect — such as telling the suspect that someone else is the target of the investigation — when and how do they advise the suspect of his or her constitutional rights to remain silent and to an attorney?
Following a Justice Department inquiry and FBI disciplinary proceedings, one FBI agent and one supervisor each received five-day suspensions without pay. Two other FBI officials received letters of censure.
Jewell's attorneys have repeatedly demanded more severe punishment, while a professional association representing FBI agents has argued that the punishments should be rescinded because the disciplined agents were doing their jobs in good faith and have been made scapegoats for the FBI's embarrassment over its treatment of Jewell.
At yesterday's hearing, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) repeatedly criticized the Office of Professional Responsibility, an internal investigative arm for the Justice Department, for not explicitly stating that Jewell's constitutional rights had been violated. Specter argued that law enforcement officers around the country might be left in doubt as to what constituted proper behavior because the head of the office, Michael E. Shaheen Jr., would not draw sharp conclusions about the Jewell case.
Getting Freeh and Shaheen to admit that Jewell's rights had been violated "was tougher than extracting bicuspids," Specter said after the hearing held before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on technology, terrorism and government information.
Jewell, who was working as a security guard during the Atlanta Olympics, discovered a suspicious green backpack hidden moments before it exploded July 27, 1996, in the crowded Centennial Olympic Park. Two people died and more than 100 people were injured as a result of the blast.
On July 30, just hours after the news media identified Jewell as a suspect in the case, FBI agents went to his apartment and asked him to come to the FBI office to help film a "training video" on how to interview "first responders" to crime scenes, Shaheen said yesterday.
Several Supreme Court decisions have allowed the use of "strategic deceptions" by law enforcement officers during investigations, and Shaheen said the use of the training video ploy "was not improper."
But the Justice Department probe concluded that Atlanta FBI officials did not advise Freeh about the ploy during a conference call between Atlanta and Washington that took place while Jewell was being questioned. Freeh said yesterday that during a subsequent call to Atlanta, "in an excess of caution," he ordered the agents to give Jewell his Miranda rights — that is, advise him of his constitutional rights, including that to an attorney.
The 1966 Miranda v. Arizona Supreme Court ruling requires police to advise people of their rights when they have been taken into custody and are being questioned in a potentially intimidating manner. Freeh and Shaheen insisted yesterday that judges would differ as to whether Jewell's interrogation required a Miranda warning.
The error of judgment by the Atlanta FBI agents arose from the manner in which they issued the warning, the officials said. After getting Freeh's order to read Jewell his rights, the agents did so but told Jewell it was for purposes of the training video. They also asked him to sign a form acknowledging receipt of the warning as if it was for the sake of the video.
One agent said to Jewell, "We're gonna use it for the purposes I told you before, but in order to do so, I want to go through it just like it's [a] real official interview, okay?" according to Shaheen's report.
Shortly afterward Jewell spoke to his attorney and ended the interview. On Oct. 26, after nearly three months under suspicion, Jewell received a letter from the FBI clearing him.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company