How US Marshals Framed a Photographer

US marshal Enrique Trevino, with the compliance of US attorney Seth Weber and federal judge Henry Perkin, frames a peaceful photographer. Photography is not a crime. This video shows the brutality of US marshals in Allentown, the ability of state agents to frame peaceful people and how the libertarian community can overcome the tyranny of a powerful central state.

UPDATE: Here are primary sources – audio, video and documents – for this video.

On Tuesday May 11 of this year around 11:54AM, James Babb and I joined Julian Heicklen on the sidewalk in front of the Edward N. Cahn Federal Building and United States Courthouse at 504 W. Hamilton St in Allentown, Pennsylvania. For several months now, Julian has been handing out jury rights pamphlets in front of federal courthouses. Previous to this, he had done so in New York City, Fort Lauderdale (Florida), Philadelphia, Reading (Pennsylvania), and Trenton (New Jersey). Jim and I joined him for several of these events. I almost always took the role of photographer/journalist/videographer. I document the events to protect Julian and publish coverage online on my website and on YouTube as I am an amateur journalist (more citizen media or just a blogger I guess you could say).

Jim and I approached Julian after parking the car that May 11 in Allentown, PA. Julian handed me a pamphlet asking if I wanted jury information, I accepted it and gave it back. After exchanging greetings I stepped to one side and began filming with my small Canon video camera. I pointed the camera at the name of the federal building, which is right above the front doors at this particular courthouse, as I do in all my videos, so I can show viewers exactly where we are.

Almost immediately, at least two court court security officers (CSO) (at least one male and one female) came out and asked me why I was filming. I said “for personal entertainment purposes.” The female’s name is Claire Burns. This exchange occurred twice. It perhaps sounds flippant but a gentleman was threatened with arrest and was facing federal charges in Manhattan for claiming to represent a news organization while also filming Julian’s pamphleteering so I don’t know what really the best answer to this question is, as I don’t want to give them any cause, however spurious, for proceeding further against me. Neither do I want to be entirely silent here, as that may cause the CSOs to escalate their response.

Julian engaged Claire Burns in discussion, adamantly requesting her identification. The male CSO came up next to me to look at my video camera, it seemed almost in a friendly or curious fashion but when I turned the camera on him he attacked me, as you can see in the video. I held on to my camera, closed the side LCD screen and when the CSO let go, I grabbed it in both hands and put both hands between my knees. A gang of federal agents took me down and took the camera. The rest you can see in the video. It’s not pleasant.

According to the (conflicting) sworn statements of one deputy marshal Enrique Trevino, I touched him and struck CSO Claire Burns with a closed fist during this attack, yet they stood me up and left me standing there. I was not detained. Kind of wierd, huh?

A male in a sweatshirt was standing next to me and I’m pretty sure he participated in the attack. He may even be the one who caused me to fall. I asked him who he was, as he seemed to be a passerby and I noticed no indication of law enforcement status. I asked him if he was a sworn peace officer. He refused to answer if I remember correctly. I asked for my camera back and I believe he said they could take it. I asked under what lawful authority and he said not to worry about it.

I took out the Department of Homeland Security’s special security bulletin on dealing with photography of federal buildings. I read to them the pertinent parts. They didn’t care. But I noticed downtown Allentown in the area around the federal building paused for a moment and listened. It was a shocking sight to see everyone for a block around looking at me. It was like something out of a Jim Carrey movie.

Then I took out my small Flip video camera and began filming again. According to their rules, it’s my right. But that day Enrique Trevino and other state functionaries proved to me (again) that this is rule of men, not rule of law. Trevino engaged me, repeating that it was illegal and I asked why. He was lulling me into a relaxed state. Suddenly he grabbed the front of my camera and his eyes got big. I initially did not let go of the camera. I simply held on to it. After a few seconds, I let go and then tried to retrieve it briefly but there was no violence. Not even the liar Enrique Trevino alleges that.

Not too long after that Trevino said: “Cuff him. He laid hands on a marshal.”

I immediately fell to the pavement. I was entirely free of restraint so this action did not involve physical contact with anyone and was not in violation of any orders I had been given. I don’t think I was even given any orders until the sweatshirt man told me to put my hands behind my head. I cooperated fully, was placed in restraints and lifted up. I cooperated with my transport into the jail. I was placed into a cell.

Here’s Jim Babb’s account of what happened:

“I had passed out a single pamphlet when a federal costumed woman approached Julian. Julian chose to argue with her in a belligerent fashion. Within seconds, about 10 or 12 federal goons arrived. These people were extremely aggressive and appeared to be on steroids. The female assaulted Julian. He commanded her to back off. George attempted to video what was happening. Seconds later, they assaulted George and wrestled his video camera away. Thugs piled on George. One even put his knee on George’s face. I called 911 to report an assault and robbery in progress. Things were very chaotic, stressful and happening very fast. We all had goons in our face, but George was targeted for extreme violence to get his camera. A minute or 2 later, more goons arrived and kidnapped George. They threatened Julian and me as well. I believe George was charged with assault, although all the evidence will clearly show who the aggressor was.

A few minutes later, Julian and I went into the courthouse and asked to speak to the magistrate. (These were the same thugs that had just assaulted, robbed and kidnapped George.) They told us that complaints must be made at the clerks office, but we were not allowed to go to the clerks office. They ordered us out of the building and said someone would come out to let us know George’s status. About an hour later, we were told that George could not see a magistrate today, but would have access to a phone tonight.”

I was put in a cage. My property was cataloged. I was left alone and shortly thereafter, perhaps 10-40 minutes later I heard what sounded like a taser discharge. I was worried they tried to damage my camera.

I heard them laughing and carrying on and I believe they found and consulted my website (if they weren’t already aware of it) as they laughed about the fact that I had said cheese when other marshals took my picture in Philadelphia on April 8, 2010. Also, as I was being transported to Lehigh County Prison a few hours later I was told by sweatshirt man that I wouldn’t be able to make the pamphleting event Julian had scheduled in Johnstown, Pennsylvania the following day. It was said in a condescending tone.

Julian Heicklen comments on what happened after I was taken into the federal building:

“About 6 city police officers appeared after George was already in the courthouse. [Jim called them.] They said that they had no jurisdiction on federal property and left. Jim and I tried to enter the courthouse at 12:35 pm to assist our friend, but we were refused entry by the federal marshals. We were told to wait outside, and that someone would come out and tell us George’s status. I waited outside while Jim went to the sheriff’s office across the street in the county courthouse. The sheriff’s office refused to intervene, even though a sheriff does have jurisdiction anywhere in the county.”

I did not fully comply with the marshals’ attempt to interview me about my life history. After some time in the cell, I was read the Miranda rights and a marshal asked me to sign something giving them permission to search my electronic devices. I refused stating that I did not consent to any searches whatsoever. When they took my picture I said “Cheese!” but I couldn’t muster a decent smile.

That night in the Lehigh County Prison was bearable. The fellow prisoners were mostly decent people and it wasn’t terribly cold. I was given enough blankets to keep myself warm. I tried to make phone calls but the PIN they gave me didn’t work. I couldn’t actually talk to anyone. Even in order to make collect calls, the receiver of the phone call had to sign up for some kind of special account online. It was very frustrating. When asked why I was in there I said, “For photographing a federal building.” This fazed the medical person and the other prisoners. It was the truth.

The next morning, the sweatshirt marshal and another man transported me in a van to the Philadelphia federal building. He stopped at a gas station and insisted on offering me a soda to drink, saying it would be a long ride. He made it sound like he was doing me a favor but it came off as demented, since a soda would cause me to have to go to the bathroom in short order. The ride was around 2 hours long, as they took back roads.

Shortly after arrival at the marshal detention area in the Philadelphia federal building, jailers discovered that I had been involved in the April 8 pamphleting event and took note of it. Apparently it had been big news among them. I was left in leg irons for an extended amount of time. One of the jailers asked the marshal in the sweatshirt twice why I was still in leg irons and was told not to worry about it.

Another jailer saw I was still in leg irons and said “Are you still fighting?!”. Once the marshal in the sweatshirt disappeared, I was released from the leg irons. I suspect the Allentown sweatshirt marshal was prejudicing the Philadelphia marshals against me by claiming I was violent. I think sweatshirt marshal’s name is Chris Headabig but I probably have the spelling wrong.

I refused to process again, with the exception that I gave them what I thought they needed in order to release me. That is, my name, address, date of my birth, fingerprints, photo and other basic info (but not the social security number assigned to me). One of the jailers made a great effort to get me to answer all his questions but I insisted I was only protecting my privacy and certainly meant no disrespect. This is jail, he said, you don’t have any privacy.

Later I was taken into an interview room to be interviewed by someone who also identified himself as a marshal. I thought it was a ruse to get me to answer all their questions. He said he saw no reason why I couldn’t be out on bail that day. It turns out he was with pre-trial services and they evaluate whether I can be released or not. But he was a marshal and I didn’t trust them.

In court, I spoke for myself as best I could. I almost fainted. Henry Perkin, the judge, assigned public defender Mark Wilson, a solid guy, to be co-counsel. This had the effect of weakening my resolve and self-confidence. In order to have him appointed as my lawyer I would have had to fill out a financial disclosure form and I refused to do that. Mark spoke for me quite a bit.

The courtroom audience was entirely made up of marshals and court security officers. I recognized a lot of faces from the April 8 and 29th outreach events. One marshal had a copy of Julian’s leaflet about the judge lying. Another complained that I hadn’t given them the pages of information they were used to getting about their prisoners.

I was sent back to the pre-trial services marshal, I answered almost all of his questions, then went back before Perkin. Now they wanted my passport and firearms before releasing me. I had to spend the night in federal prison while Jim Babb and Darren Wolfe scrambled to hand my property over to the same marshals in Allentown who had framed me. Thank the universe for good friends like these.

At the federal detention center in Philadelphia on May 12 I was singled out for special treatment. I was the last to process out of the cold holding tanks that night, around 11:30PM (they had a lot of prisoners to process), I had to change to an orange jumpsuit and orange shoes and I was taken to the SHU (solitary confinement, sort of) of the facility and placed in a cell with a prisoner who had been in a fight the day before. However, I must add that he seemed to be in there for the victimless crime of selling verboten substances. The feds got his friends to turn on him. He was facing 20 years. He is from a neighborhood that I am familiar with. I grew up nearby. He struck me as holding firm to the kind of street morals I grew up with for a time in Philadelphia. From what little he told me, it didn’t seem that he should be in prison.

The next morning, some of the gentlemen whose acquaintance I had made the day before (fellow prisoners) expressed surprise that I had been placed in the SHU and told me the marshals commented about it gleefully in their presence and told fellow marshals they “had to see this.” One marshal reportedly commented that he would like to put his foot up my behind. I was also told that marshals were saying I could be the next Timothy McVeigh. Has the war on terror been so promoted on such scant cause that these guys are just chomping at the bit to find a real terrorist? Are they so desperate to justify their own terrorism that they had to paint me as one?

At 5AM I was taken from my cell and marched in leg irons with my hands bound and the cuffs attached to a chain at my waist together with other people who had court that day. My court time was 2 PM. My fellow prisoners and I waited almost 9 hours in a dirty marshal jail inside the federal building for court. We were fed incredibly poorly. One poor guy who came in right after lunch was served, got nothing. Lunch was a paper bag with a crappy sandwich, overly sugared cookies, a tiny amount of milk and a shriveled apple. Breakfast and dinner were the same btw.

On the way to court at 5AM one marshal asked another in my presence if their package had arrived yet. No, the other answered, but if it doesn’t come in today, ours doesn’t go out. They were talking about the receipt of my firearms and passport. As far as I can tell, I was the only prisoner they talked about. I found it really strange. Libertarians across the country were calling them about me. Maybe this is why.

This time I spoke more for myself in court. The release conditions were beyond belief. $50,000 bail? House arrest with an ankle monitor? This was outrageous but I took it in stride so I could get out. Behind me the whole time is a marshal-jailer closing and opening a pair of handcuffs, over and over again while I try to defend myself in court. The whole court was a marshal operation from top to bottom. What a sham. Jim Babb and Bill Faust were there and it reassured me a bit. I was scared to death I wouldn’t be able to get out that day. But I did get out and I had to sign a ton of paperwork to do it. I was deathly afraid it was a catch-22. I might sign something that put me in violation of something else I signed and tomorrow I’d be right back here.

Jim Babb, Darren Wolfe and Bill Faust were there for me when I finally got out.

Two weeks later the original charges were dropped but due to Henry Perkin’s inability to care and/or Paul Hetznecker’s (the attorney I hired) busy case schedule, I remained on house arrest for 4 more weeks. It really sucked. It especially placed a lot of stress on my wife.

A week later I got a letter from the county sheriff saying he had revoked my PA license to carry a firearm. The marshals went and talked to him. Never mind that he claimed it was because of the dropped charges. If I didn’t turn the piece of plastic in to these people within 5 days, it was a summary offense. And when I did turn it in, they refused to give me a receipt. All I could get was the last name of one of the sherriff’s deputies: Petriga. They could have easily claimed I failed to turn in the piece of plastic – or lost it and forgotten – and I would have been defenseless before the summary charge. Had I been convicted it would have been a violation of my release conditions and minimum one year in federal prison. Nice catch-22. Thanks Montgomery county sheriff.

I complied with everything they put on me, so the pre-trial services officer Donald Fitzwater recommended a reduction in my release conditions. On June 22nd it was the initial appearance for the new charges. Bail was reduced to $10,000. Home arrest was nixed. I was allowed to travel the continental US. I no longer had to drive 40 minutes into downtown Philadelphia for weekly piss tests, never mind that there was never any indication of drug use. It was just in time for me to attend the Porcupine Freedom Festival in Lancaster, NH. We really needed that. PorcFest is like Burning Man for libertarians. It is held every June – don’t miss it next year.

Although Henry Perkin asked US attorney Seth Weber for a quick trial on these now “petty charges” (Perkin’s words), he was busy until 2 months later. Then when August 26th rolled around, Weber decided to take that day off. The hearing was rescheduled for September 1st. This presented a significant problem for me that I won’t go into. Suffice to say I dodged it.

At the trial, I was so stressed over the fact that anything could happen and that I was powerless, I could barely speak. My son was experiencing a severe medical condition. That added to the stress. I had agreed to a plea deal. The assault and one of the CFR charges were dropped. In return I pleaded guilty to the CFR charge of disobeying a lawful order of the marshals. It was complete bullshit. I was innocent of all charges. But I was in a rush to be done with the process for financial reasons and I didn’t trust Henry Perkin to be impartial. He signed Trevino’s dishonest statements about what happened that day. He imposed the ridiculous release conditions. He worked with those marshals every day and I’d already seen that his court was a marshal operation.

Perhaps the most revolting part of the hearing was when I was coerced into saying I had not been coerced into the plea deal. Well, yes, I had been coerced, and by Henry Perkin himself. I never agreed to be bound by his decisions. He and his marshals forced that on me. He has me under threat of all kinds of punishments if I don’t take this plea deal.

After the plea hearing, I got all my stuff back but the marshals, or someone whom they allowed access to my stuff, had erased the audio on my voice recorder and the video on my two video cameras. I haven’t tested my firearms yet but they claim they haven’t tampered with them. Inside the courtroom, Jim Babb confronted Trevino and Burns about their lies. Trevino threatened him with arrest. They all took the elevator down together, the marshal, the rent-a-marshal and 6 liberty activists who attended my plea hearing. Burns gave Jim a raspberry for pointing out her culpability. Is this just a game for these people?

Here are Julian Heicklen’s comments after the trial:

Shortly after 2:00 pm, we entered the courthouse for the trial of George Donnelly. Identification documents were requested from all of us, and everyone else, for entry. I do not carry identification and was denied entry. I made a fuss and reminded the guards that Amendment VI of the U.S. Constitution requires a public trial. It makes no mention that the attendees must identify themselves. Another deprivation of rights.

After I was denied entry, I went to my car and retrieved my driver’s license, so that I could attend. When I entered the courtroom prosecuting attorney Weber and Officer Trevino, who participated in the arrest, were telling the untrue version of events.

After they were done, George’s lawyer (whose name I do not have) spoke and said that George pleads guilty, but was at the scene to express his First Amendment rights, so the judge should be lenient in sentencing. Then the inquisition started. Judge Perkins asked George if he plead guilty to each of the accusations, and George said yes.

Judge Perkins then sentenced George to time served, which was two days in jail and two weeks of house arrest. He also said that it was customary to impose a large fine, but he had intended to impose only the small fine of $1000.00. However he learned that George had a child at home that required special expenses, so he lowered the fine to $500.00. The trial ended at about 3:00 pm.

George was released, recovered all of his confiscated property, and went home. I made it a point to carry George’s guns for him out of the courthouse and to his car, even though I do not have a carry permit. It was 5:00 pm, so the rest of us, as well as Richie Schwarz, who attended the trial, went to dinner at some local pub.

This trial was another show trial, where the defendant is required to plead guilty and be subjected to public humiliation in exchange for a light sentence and no additional legal expenses. Hitler and Stalin would approve of the trial. I do not.

I’ll have more analysis of this adventure soon.

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