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The Metropolitan Police Department says that it was forced to use an undercover officer to infiltrate a labor rights group after a uniformed officer was assaulted at an anti-sweatshop protest outside a Gap clothing store.
The claim was made in a court filing responding to a lawsuit by United Students Against Sweatshops, which argued earlier this month that the police department violated a D.C. law by using an undercover officer posed as a protester to infiltrate the group. The group was able to identify the officer, who went by the name Missy but is legally known as Nicole Rizzi, by linking her to postings made on social media sites.
According to the filing, the decision to use an undercover officer was made after a uniformed officer was "punched and body-slammed by at least three individuals within the group of protestors" during the May 1 protest. Nine days later, the use of an undercover officer to investigate possible violence at other planned demonstrations was authorized. The initial lawsuit, though, says Rizzi was spotted at protests as early as March.
A 2004 D.C. law requires that police demonstrate reasonable suspicion that any political group is planning on engaging in criminal activity before infiltrating. They also have to receive proper authorization and demonstrate that no other less-intrusive means exist to achieve the same end.
The department argues that the undercover officer was the least intrusive way to investigate the group, and that the group's free speech rights were not infringed because members did not know the officer had infiltrated them. "Here, members of the Plaintiff’s organization were not chilled in their speech as they did not know an undercover officer was present," argues the department in its filing.
D.C. police have been criticized in the past for using undercover officers to infiltrate political groups. 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.
One person was arrested for assaulting the police officer at the May protest, though the case was later dismissed by a judge. The officer who was assaulted is being sued by another protester who alleges that he used excessive force.
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