A group of activists that was infiltrated by LAPD informants and undercover officers at its meetings in 2017 demanded answers Friday regarding the department’s motives for what they say was essentially spying on them.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said on Tuesday that his department will modify its policies in using confidential informants and undercover officers after it was revealed by the Los Angeles Times that the department had spied on Refuse Fascism, a political group that was planning protests against President Donald Trump.
“Refuse Fascism demands to know the evidence for why they (LAPD) are saying we were involved in `criminal activity,’ the extent of the spying operation, who approved it, who was involved and how high it went,” a statement from Refuse Fascism member Chantelle Hershberger read. “In addition to filing a (records request), we demand the release of this investigation and all associated interviews and documents.”
Hershberger is one of the “Freeway 9” defendants who faces charges from the Highway 101 protests that closed the freeway in 2017. Refuse Fascism held a conference Friday in front of the LAPD headquarters downtown.
Moore told the Police Commission Tuesday that the decision to deploy informants inside sensitive locations “including churches, hospitals or law offices” or among political groups will now require the approval of some of the department’s highest-ranking officers.
“The use of a confidential informant or undercover officer at a place of worship or other sensitive location where 1st Amendment protected activities (are) conducted, I believe, should receive a higher level of scrutiny and approval before becoming operational, to ensure that the benefit of the investigative technique is not outweighed by the potential loss of public trust,” Moore said earlier this week.
Refuse Fascism held four meetings in October 2017 to plot protests of the one-year anniversary of Trump’s election. The group is considered to be largely nonviolent, yet an LAPD informant monitored meetings inside an Echo Park church.
“There is a pile of evidence showing this is about the suppression of political speech and protest that steps outside the confines of relying on the Democratic Party and engaging in symbolic protest-as-usual,” Hershberger said. “The problem is not alleged criminal activity on the part of Refuse Fascism or the Revolution Club, the problem is fascism.”
Records about the informant’s activities became public as part of a criminal case against members of Refuse Fascism members involved in blocking downtown freeways. The informant filed multiple reports but never uncovered any information about potential violence or crimes being plotted by the group, according to court records.
Civil liberties advocates and experts on the political fringe described the LAPD’s tactics as “deeply troubling.” The protest that Refuse Fascism ultimately staged in downtown Los Angeles on Election Day 2017 ended with just two arrests and no injuries.
The LAPD did not conduct similar spying operations on right-wing groups in the lead-up to the one-year anniversary of the presidential election, a law enforcement source previously told The Times.
Moore said the department’s actions in the Refuse Fascism case did not violate LAPD policy, and he did not believe investigators had done anything wrong. Some of the department’s highest-ranking officials, including former Police Chief Charlie Beck, had been made aware of the operation even though it was not required by policy.
Going forward, Moore said, he wants to make sure that such reviews are mandated. The department’s general counsel may also become involved in such decisions, according to Moore, who said he now considers the matter closed.
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