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Anti-Sweatshop Group Files Lawsuit Against D.C. Police For Infiltrating Protests

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D.C. police officer Nicole Rizzi seen at left posing as protester "Missy" and at right in an image from her Twitter account.
Photo courtesy of In These Times magazine
D.C. police officer Nicole Rizzi seen at left posing as protester "Missy" and at right in an image from her Twitter account.

An anti-sweatshop group has filed a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department, accusing it of sending an undercover officer to infiltrate and monitor peaceful protests.

According to the lawsuit, the undercover D.C. police officer, who went by the name Missy, took part in multiple peaceful protests organized by United Students Against Sweatshops from March to June. Members of the group eventually outed her by connecting her Twitter account and picture to her real name—Nicole Rizzi.

Jeffrey Light, the group's attorney, says police likely violated a D.C. law that requires three conditions be met before undercover officers infiltrate groups exercising their First Amendment rights.

"The first is that police have to have sufficient information to open an inquiry or investigation. The second is that they have to have proper authorization from high-ranking officials to open that. And the third thing is that they have to engage in minimization, that is, before they use something as intrusive as an undercover officer, they have to explore less intrusive means first. In this case, we believe that they violated all three," he says.

The 2004 law grew out of the anti-World Bank protests in between 2000 and 2002 in which D.C. police officers infiltrated protest groups. In response to lawsuits stemming from those events, the D.C. Council passed the law, which states that police have to have reasonable suspicion that any political group is planning on engaging in criminal activity before infiltrating.

This isn't the first time that D.C. police have come under scrutiny for the practice. In September 2012, the D.C. Auditor wrote in a report that police officers did not receive the proper authorization in 16 of 20 investigations of groups engaged in First Amendment activities.

Light says that since filing the lawsuit, which was first reported by In These Times magazine, he has heard from various left-wing groups that recognize Missy from their protests. He says that he hopes to use the lawsuit to uncover how widespread the practice is.

Police Chief Cathy Lanier says that she believes that the department has done nothing wrong. “I feel confident that we have adhered to all laws pertaining to the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act of 2004. The Metropolitan Police Department and Office of the Attorney General will answer in court specific allegations made in this lawsuit," she says.

The lawsuit will get its first hearing on November 22.

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