For over three days, an undercover Chicago police officer Nadia Chikko, who infiltrated activist communities with another undercover officer, was on the witness stand in the trial of the ‘NATO 3,’ who face state terrorism and other felony conspiracy charges. She left the stand in the afternoon on Friday and another Chicago police officer from the department’s intelligence unit took the stand to testify about attaching a GPS tracking device to the defendants’ vehicle.
Brian Jacob Church, Jared Chase, and Brent Betterly traveled from Florida to participate in a large protest at the NATO summit on May 18, 2012. They were arrested and charged with plotting to commit attacks to disrupt the NATO summit before any of the major demonstrations held in protest of the summit.
Russell Bacius placed a GPS tracking device on the burgundy Ford Taurus car with a Florida license plate, which the “NATO 3″ had been driving. It was placed on May 4 after obtaining a court order authorizing the police to place it on the vehicle.
Bacius explained, once attached, the device would send out a signal. It was “always active but not always pinging.” The intervals between the “pings,” which told the department where the vehicle was located, could be sent out every two seconds, every minute or every five minutes if the department wanted. The device also had a “sleep mode,” which it could enter if the vehicle had not moved for a “certain amount of time.”
On the day the device was attached, Chicago police conducted surveillance and waited for foot traffic around the apartment, where they were staying, to be low. Bacius and another officer pulled up next to the vehicle about 10:46 pm. Bacius got out of the passenger door and went underneath the vehicle. He testified that it took him 15 seconds to attach the device and then get back into the unmarked vehicle they were driving and leave the scene before anyone saw them.
The police, on multiple days, conducted “visual surveillance” of the vehicle. To make sure the device was still attached, they went to the Northwest Mental Health Clinic in Chicago, where protests were happening to save the mental health clinic from being shut down. They spotted the vehicle to see that the GPS device was still attached and working properly.
Prosecutors for the state of Illinois had a map of the Chicagoland area with GPS device sent out on May 11, 2012, blown up on a big board for the jury to visualize how the device was helping the police track the location of the “NATO 3.”
Something rather amusing happened with this blown-up map of data when defense attorney Thomas Durkin, one of the attorneys representing Chase, cross-examined Bacius. After asking multiple questions about the city’s plans for the NATO summit and whether he had been tasked with helping the department uncover “anarchists” by going undercover, Durkin asked him to give his opinion of what the data on the map from May 11 showed.
The prosecution could have objected. How is his opinion relevant? However, the prosecution did not object. They wanted the officer to share his view because it was favorable to their case.
Bacius pointed out their house and how they had headed up north to the Northwest Mental Health Clinic. They spent time there and after a period they came to the downtown area of Chicago.
“In the downtown area, my opinion is they were searching for targets,” Bacius suggested. The “way they were randomly, maybe not randomly going around,” led him to believe this. Also, the Chicago Board of Trade, Federal Reserve Branch, numerous banks and office buildings were in the area nearby where they were driving. Not far away was President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign headquarters.
“If you were sightseers, I can’t see that as sightseeing,” Bacius stated. It was “no joyride.” They were “on a mission scouting out targets to do criminal acts.”
At some point in giving his opinion, he also was given an opportunity to give his view of the weapons they had. “I don’t believe firebombs, pipe bombs or mortars, bow and arrows, knives and swords…I don’t think these are minor. They cause major damage and kill numerous people.” He didn’t believe a tourist would move around the city like they had done nor would they travel the city streets like this if they were lost.
During Bacius’ opinion, Durkin tried to interrupt and steer what he was saying. The prosecution objected, and Judge Thaddeus Wilson instructed Durkin to let him finish before asking any further questions.
Naturally, when he was done, Durkin was ready to pick this opinion apart. He asked Bacius whether he was aware that Jackson and Lasalle, where Occupy Chicago had been located for daily protests, was right around where the three young men had been driving.
Chase was a part of Occupy Miami, Occupy Washington and Occupy Richmond, North Carolina? Bacius responded, “I don’t know if they were truly part of the Occupy movement,” like Chicago police have the authority to determine if one is a legitimate member of a major social movement.
Durkin pointed out the officer knew Chase had been part of Occupy Boston. He had read reports on them. And Bacius admitted, “He had gone to other cities during Occupy movements.”
What about the possibility of trying to find parking? Might this have been why they’re driving appeared to be random?
It was at this time prosecutors objected. The judge said to them they should have objected to giving his opinion. Since they let him share it, the defense was now entitled to deconstructing and dissect all aspects of his opinion.
Bacius answered that it was “unreasonable to think they were just looking for parking.”
Durkin pointed out the GPS data on May 11 indicated the vehicle went near the People’s Law Office, an office staffed by lawyers willing to represent victims of police brutality or harassment. He showed when the vehicle drove south it went near the Occupy Chicago headquarters. “They weren’t going to attack Occupy headquarters?”
Durkin moved on to asking him about an instance on May 15, when the vehicle had entered the “geofence” set by a police sergeant around Obama’s headquarters.
The “geofence,” Bacius explained, was a “perimeter box or circle on map and when trucks crossing into box on map it will send out notification.” It could be “as small or as large” as a police sergeant wanted. He did not know where the boundaries had been set. It was probably about two to three blocks in radius around the headquarters.
Michael Deutsch, one of the defense attorneys representing Church, asked Bacius some questions about how it was impossible to know who was driving the car. The police department had no idea.
With contempt in his voice, he said, “What you are telling us is based on speculation.” And, “Your opinion is speculation.” (The prosecution, again, tried to object, but the judge told them they should have objected to him giving his opinion. Now, they could not object.)
Bacius maintained his opinion was “based on the facts of the case as I know it.” But Deutsch countered, “The facts of this case don’t tell you as fact what these people were doing.”
A prosecutor stood up and asked him if the vehicle driven by the “NATO 3″ had in fact “breached the perimeter” set around Obama’s headquarters at some point. To this broad question, Bacius said yes.
Deutsch, who was frustrated if not outright infuriated by this, got up once more to ask him what that even meant.
Prior to giving his opinion, Bacius was asked questions similar to what Chikko had been asked, since he had gone to public meetings, cafes, protests and other gatherings to “observe, listen and report back any criminal activity.” He was sent in to spy on activist communities because they believed that “violent anarchists” would infiltrate “peaceful protest” organizations.
Bacius was much less resistant to questions from the defense on whether he had understood that he should take note of any person expressing “anarchist views.” That was something to put down in police reports.
He claimed he was “interested in people talking about performing a violent act or criminal act to either persons or property.”
The defense asked about surveillance of activist communities by police in the months prior to the summit because the police department had a large-scale operation. This was part of determining what resources, money and personnel, needed to be allocated for security during the summit. So, they chose to spy on activist communities to figure out who they needed to watch to prevent violence.
However, much of this would be unnecessary. The city of Chicago was preparing to host both the G8 and NATO meetings on May 15 and May 19 respectively. Obama made a decision in March to move the G8 meeting to Camp David without giving all that much of an explanation for why the location was changed. The suspicion the defense has is it was moved because there was worry about the possibility of police in Chicago being seen beating up protesters.
Chicago has a history going back to the 1968 Democratic National Convention. On February 8, 2012, the city paid out a settlement of $6.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of 700 protesters, who were arrested on Lake Shore Drive while protesting during the first day of the Iraq War in 2003.
There definitely was reason to worry that police would engage in abuse or misconduct and cost the city millions of dollars again.