An undercover Chicago police officer involved in targeting and arresting three young men on trial in the state of Illinois for terrorism and other felony conspiracy charges admitted on the witness stand that he was the only one to ever explicitly say anything about “terrorizing” the city during a NATO summit.
Brian Jacob Church, Brent Betterly and Jared Chase, known as the “NATO 3,” traveled from Florida to Chicago for protests that were planned against the NATO summit in May 2012. They had previously organized with Occupy groups in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Two undercover cops from the Chicago police department’s intelligence unit, Officer Nadia Chikko and Officer Mehmet Uygun, became protesters and infiltrated the activist community that was preparing for demonstrations around the summit, particularly a large demonstration on May 18.
The state alleges the three young men took beer bottles and filled them with each with gasoline, a quarter of the way, and filled them with cloths to make Molotov cocktails to throw at police. However, recorded conversations from wire devices Chikko and Uygun wore call that narrative of the alleged criminal act into question.
Paul Brayman, one of the defense attorneys for Betterly, cross-examined Uygun on February 3. One of the conversations involves discussion about the Ford Taurus the “NATO 3″ drove. They were talking about how close they could bring their car to the “red zone” without it getting seized. And, according to the prosecution’s own transcript of the conversation, Uygun says something about being “up and out of the city after we terrorize this motherfucker.”
Brayman asked Uygun, who was known as “Mo” to activists, “You’re the only one that uses the word ‘terrorize’ isn’t that correct?” Uygun answered, “Yes sir.” (Previously, Uygun said when being questioned by the prosecution that he said this to “gauge” what attacks the “NATO 3″ were planning, whatever that is supposed to mean.)
During one conversation on May 16, Uygun said he had $2 for gas. Was he volunteering to help the “NATO 3″ purchase gas for the Molotov cocktails? Uygun told the jury he was not volunteering to pay for gas.
Uygun was asked about the fact that he cut bandannas to make “wicks” for the Molotov cocktails. “I was watching,” Uygun claimed. This suggested he was not making them.
“You weren’t part of Molotov cocktails being made?” Brayman asked. “I’m watching Molotov cocktails being made,” Uygun eventually stated. Somehow “watching” included helping the men cut bandanna strips for the “wicks.”
After going through all the dates between May 1 and May 16, the day the “NATO 3″ (and six others were arrested), Brayman asked Uygun if Betterly had ever touched any Molotov cocktails or any plans to use Molotov cocktails. Uygun said, “I never had a conversation with Brent specifically about Molotovs.”
Brayman pressed him with a series of questions aimed at testing his version of the critical event at the center of this case—when four Molotov cocktails were made on the evening of May 16. His questions seemed to reflect that Betterly claims he was never part of the making of the Molotovs and was not on the porch with Chase, Church, Chikko and Uygun when they were being made. But, despite the fact that Betterly cannot be heard saying anything in recorded conversations, Uygun insisted he was not inside the house.
Betterly can be heard in recorded conversations complaining about the “smell of gasoline” in the house. It smells like “straight gasoline,” he said. If he was involved in making the Molotovs, would he have expressed his displeasure with the gas smell?
In the timeline, the two undercover officers meet with Chase and Church at an after-party on May 1. They have two meetings in a park in Chicago in the days after. Uygun sees Betterly on May 3 at the DuSable Museum. He barely shows up in the recorded conversations.
Thomas Durkin, a defense attorney for Chase, started his cross-examination of Uygun. Unlike Chikko, Uygun was much more reluctant to explain what police officers had been doing at punk rock shows, public meetings, cafes, etc, in the two months before the summit. Uygun rejected the notion that he had ever “targeted” any so-called anarchists. He did admit that he was sent to these locations by the police department to help it determine where to “properly allocate resources.” For example, this would help decide the extent of “manpower” needed for security during the summit.
According to a police document Durkin mentioned during cross-examination, authorized officers like Uygun to look for “people who may pose a threat to property during otherwise peaceful protests during the NATO summit.”
On April 18, when five Occupy groups were at the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic in Chicago to prevent it from being shut down, Uygun and his police surveillance team was there. They learned there would be a protest April 23 by Occupy South Side outside a Field Museum event where former President Bill Clinton, Governor Pat Quinn and Emanuel would be speaking.
On April 28, Uygun and his surveillance team were at an Occupy Chicago planning meeting at Congress and Michigan. They learned that activists would be attempting to track where Mayor Rahm Emanuel was in the city so they could hold demonstrations against him.
The police also documented a plan for a demonstration outside of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign headquarters on April 30. The organizers had apparently said they would “disrupt business” at the headquarters.
This surveillance is but a sampling of activity in the months before the NATO summit. Mark Brown recently interviewed a man who was profiled by Chikko based on his tattoo of Mexican revolutionary figure Emiliano Zapata. She noted at a punk rock show he had expressed the view that “police are oppressive and need to be stopped.”
Durkin attempted to raise the issue of why Church had been photographed by a police surveillance team on May 2, when he had a meeting with Chikko and Uygun. What suspicion did they have to place him under surveillance? He had not committed a crime or spoken about committing any crimes yet.
The prosecution objected. The judge sustained the objection. Durkin had to go the long route to get back to the general point by recounting May Day events, when the undercover officers first met Church and Chase. He established that they had no information on any criminal activity after May Day. What seemed to boil down to was Chikko and Uygun were having a meeting so the surveillance team would monitor them while they were meeting. (However, that does not explain why the jury has not seen other photos of alleged acts Church engaged in around Chase Bank tower that day, when officers say he discussed attacking the bank and bent down to touch the glass of a window.)
It has come out in the course of this trial that Chicago police engaged in spying on the activist community in the run-up to the NATO summit were taking down license plate information. When Uygun was asked about this, Uygun tersely stated, “We are the police, sir. We run plates sometimes.”
Uygun had a beard when he was pretending to be an activist. Police are not supposed to have beards, and he had tried to take on the nickname of “Turk,” which nobody ever called him. To this, Durkin asked, “You have to be clean shaven except when posing to be a Turk?” The prosecution objected to this question.
The prosecution finished its direct examination of Uygun, recounting what occurred on May 16 for the jury. Uygun took off his wire device, which he had in a backpack, and left it on the porch of apartment where the “NATO 3″ were staying. He said he did not think he could take it with him to the gas station because it would have been “suspicious.” It was this trip to the gas station when the gasoline was purchased for the Molotov cocktails and, if he had been wearing his wire, it would have recorded a conversation he said he had with Chase when walking back from the gas station on making “napalm bombs.”
The prosecutor and Uygun also neglected to mention anything about the fact that six other people were arrested along with the “NATO 3″ and the two undercover officers when the apartment was raided.
Defense attorneys will finish their cross-examination of Uygun. Following, the prosecution will have an opportunity for redirect, to question him about anything raised by the defense. The prosecution will have one more witness and then the afternoon will be spent deliberating over jury instructions.
Photo by Alex E. Proimos under Creative Commons license