A U.S. District Court jury is expected to begin deliberations today in the case of seven activists seeking more than $2 million in damages from D.C. police and five FBI agents who are alleged to have illegally spied on the seven between 1968 and 1974.
The activists, who include the Rev. David Eaton, a newly elected D.C. school board member, and Tina Hobson, the widow of former D.C. City Council member Julius Hobson, contend that the police and FBI operations violated their constitutional rights to free speech, assembly and privacy by infiltrating and spying on several antiwar and civil rights groups over a six-year period.
At the center of the case, being heard by Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer and a jury of three men and three women, is an FBI counterintelligence program called COINTELPRO, which was intended to disrupt and splinter so-called New Left groups during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Evidence introduced during the trial included phoney press releases, letters and leaflets prepared by FBI agents in COINTELPRO who were targeting black nationalist and peace groups.
Witnesses also testified that D.C. police undercover agents infiltrated both the peace movement and activists groups opposed to construction of the Three Sisters Bridge and an accompanying network of freeways that were planned for Washington. The activists contended that police informants had been instructed by their supervisors to instigate violence during demonstrations that were intended to be peaceful.
During closing arguments yesterday, defense lawyers for both the FBI agents and the D.C. police contended that there was no evidence offered during the trial that any activity by the police or the bureau interfered with the activists or with their demonstrations. Justice Department lawyer David White emphasized that, while the activists had made known their complaints about law enforcement actions, they had not demonstrated that they had suffered any injuries as a result of that activity.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura W. Bonn also argued to the jury yesterday that D.C. police intelligence activity was a "necessity of the times". Bonn contended that the police thought that their actions were lawful and justified to protect the city and said there was no evidence that the activity in any way deterred the protestors.