Occupy Austin members strike plea deals, release APD emails behind investigation
Undercover officers Shannon Dowell and Deek Moore demonstrating the use of lock-boxes.
Six members of Occupy Austin who faced jail time for actions related to an demonstration in Houston accepted plea deals last week.
The activists were charged with unlawful use of a criminal instrument for their use of lock-boxes (large PVC sleeves with bolts and chains) during an operation in Houston on Dec. 12, 2011 in which the protesters attempted to symbolically shut down the Port of Houston. The case drew controversy last year when it was revealed the lock-boxes were planned and constructed by Austin police officers working undercover within Occupy Austin.
Ronnie Garza, one of the demonstrators charged with using a lock-box, said the officers acted as provocateurs and pushed for the use of the devices. Police said in a press conference that top brass at APD was unaware of the undercover operation, but after learning of the situation, they were confident that the officers acted in good faith in building the lock-boxes.
Garza's attorney Greg Gladden subpoenaed the Austin Police Department when the involvement of undercover officers was discovered. The defense received from APD the identities of three officers who worked undercover as well as hundreds of pages of emails, texts and photos regarding Occupy Austin.
In those documents, which were released by Garza on Saturday, Austin police discuss the inner-workings of Occupy Austin, keeping track of their leadership and plans.
In one email more than one week before a demonstration at the Port of Houston, Sgt. Tom Sweeney with APD emailed supervisors that demonstrators intended to use lock-boxes in Houston, and one of the undercover officers has the chance to build the devices, according to plans which would make them easier to remove for police. Another email from Austin police to Houston detailed what tools would be needed to dismantle the lock-boxes.
On the night of the Houston action, one of the undercover officers, Rick Reeza, texted an APD supervisor several of the protesters were charged with felonies to which the supervisor, Lt. Geraldo Gonzalez said, "Great news!! The PVC worked!" Reeza jokingly replied they wouldn't be seeing those demonstrators for a while, and then makes sure he and other undercover officers get credit for the felony arrests.
The undercover officers also regularly monitored and reported Occupy Austin activity until the group's eviction at the beginning of February last year, according to the released documents.