By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
I featured three articles in November, 2015 (HERE, HERE, and HERE) depicting a controversy caused by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries’ promotion of artwork made by Leonard Peltier, who was convicted for the June, 1975 murders of FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams. The display furthered the controversy in that it marked the 40thanniversary year of the agents’ murder. After considerable outcry on both sides of the issue, the dispay was taken down two weeks prior to its scheduled conclusion date.
Now, a lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court by Leonard Peltier and his son Chauncey against the state naming L&I Director Joel Sacks, Governor Jay Inslee, the L&I spokesman, retired FBI Special Agents, and two hundred John Does as defendants, claiming that the Peltiers were denied their First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by the state’s removal of the artwork.
The lawsuit indicates strongly how controversies such as these can be avoided and that allowing state employees to promote controversial issues often leads to disaster.
I first reported the unsettling situation where a government agency promoted the art of this convicted cop killer, which was only certain to generate controversy in the Law Enforcement Community along with the families of those who have lost their loved ones.
The State of Washington sponsored a convicted murderer’s artwork and provided free advertisements toward its purchase. I view this as highly unethical and a strong conflict of interest. The State of Washington should not be in the business of helping convicted cop killers profit while in prison. It is an insult to the families of agents Coler and Williams and those who have served in the profession.
The great irony of this affair is that the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is the agency charged with paying benefits to police officers injured on the job and to also administers the Washington State Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund.
The article drew the attention of KING5 news which held an interview with Retired FBI agent Matt Lauer. Click on the below image to watch.
The lawsuit alleges civil rights violations of US Constitution Amendments 1, 5, and 14, the Equal Protection Clause of Article I of the Washington State Constitution, Defamation, and Tortious Interference with Contract.
Here are some highlights of the complaint:
Plaintiff LEONARD PELTIER is an American Indian Activist convicted under highly questionable circumstances of the disputed deaths of two FBI agents in 1974. The government case involved lying to Candia authorities and providing false witness testimony to persuade Canada to extradite this Plaintiff, witness coercion, falsifying, misrepresenting, and deliberately concealing material evidence, deliberately selecting a favorable venue, falsely representing to the trial judge that his own safety was in jeopardy and other acts deliberately calculated to ensure conviction. Plaintiff Leonard Peltier has been a Federal Prisoner, as a result for 40 years. His case has been the subject of great dispute and controversy. He is also an extremely accomplished artist.
Defendant JOEL SACKS, is and was at the time of the incidents that are the basis for this Complaint, the DIRECTOR of the WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRIES. By information and belief, DEFENDANT JOEL SACKS is a resident of THURSTON COUNTY, WA in the WESTERN DISTRICT of WASHINGTON, whose office is in LACEY, WA in THURSTON COUNTY. By information and belief, Defendant SACKS personally, along with Defendants INSLEE and CHURCH made the decision to remove certain paintings by PLAINTIFF LEONARD PELTIER from the public exhibition hereinafter described solely due to the identity and controversy surrounding the artist causing the harm to Plaintiffs detailed herein.
Defendant JAY INSLEE is and was at the time of these incidents, THE overnor of the STATE of WASHINGTON. DFENDANT [sic] INSLEE is, and must be, a resident of THURSTON COUNTY in the WESTERN DISTRICT of WASHINGTON. By information and belief, Defendant INSLEE personally, along with Defendants SACKS and CHURCH made the decision to remove certain paintings by PLAINTIFF LEONARD PELTIER from the public exhibition hereinafter described solely due to the identity and controversy surrounding the artist causing the harm to Plaintiffs detailed herein.
Defendant EDWARD P. WOODS is, and was at the time of these incidents 17 a retired FBI AGENT, whose sole focus, and obsession, since his retirement, first under paid contract with the FBI, and since, by belief unpaid, has been to discredit, isolate, and harass, defame, and otherwise attack PLAINTIFF LEONARD PELTIER, and attempt to prevent PLAINTIFF from ever been released from prison..[sic] As part of that vendetta, DEFENDANT WOODS contacted Defendants INSLEE and SACKS and organized others to do so all demanding that PLAINTIFF LEONARD PELTIER’S paintings be removed from the public exhibition in question and, to do so made knowingly false statements to those officials to induce them to remove LEONARD PELTIER”S [sic] artwork and expression from the exhibition, resulting in that harm. By INFORMATION and BELIEF DEFENDANT EDWARD P. WOODS is a resident of Cincinnati, OH, in the SOUTHERN DISTRICT of OHIO.
DEFENDANT LARRY LANGBERG is a retired FFBI agent, the former President of the FBI Agents Association and the Current Director of the Society of former special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While an active agent, Defendant LANGBERG made disparaging comments about the “over-promotion” of agents of color and was investigating [sic] for improperly lobbying a member of Congress for pay increases. DEFENDANT LANGBERG, in order to induce Defendants SACKS and INSLEE to order Plaintiff Leonard Peltier’s paintings removed from the exhibition, wrote a letter to Defendant SACKS that was full of knowingly false statements and slurs. By INFORMATION and BELIEF, DEFENDANT LARRY LANGBERG is a resident of DUNFRIES, VA in the EASTERN DISTRICT of VIRGINIA.
The complaint continues to rehash old allegations about the Trial of Leonard Peltier that I believe have no relevance to the claim, but rather continues the forty year long narrative that he is a victim of state persecution.
PLAINTIFF LEONARD PELTIER is AN [sic] American Indian Movement Activist who is now one of the longest held political prisoners in the world. PLAINTIFF’ LEONARD PELTIER was convicted of supposedly murdering two FBI agents in a trial broadly conceded to have been full of irregularities. The government case involved lying to Candia [sic] authorities and providing false witness testimony to persuade Canada to extradite this Plaintiff, witness coercion, falsifying, misrepresenting, and deliberately concealing material evidence, deliberately selecting a favorable venue, falsely representing to the trial judge that his own safety was in jeopardy and other acts deliberately calculated to ensure conviction. In addition, the FBI was later forced to admit that the gun did not match the results of the ballistics tests on the bullets that killed the FBI agents, and the case deteriorated to the point that the FBI and US Attorney’s argument was that LEONARD PELTIER was there and involved, and therefore deserved to be convicted.
For this LEONARD PELTIER has been locked up in Federal Prisons for the past 40 years. His conviction is highly suspected [sic] and his cause has been taken up by millions of people around the world, including members of National Parliaments leaders in the legal, political, academic, entertainment, media, and sports world, and a sizeable percentage of American Indians.
LEONARD PELTIER is now in extremely poor health and there is a serious question as to how much longer he will live. Each Time PLAINTIFF LEONARD PELTIER petitions for release or has a parole review date, a gaggle of retired FBI agents including Defendants WOODS and LANGBERG sends a barrage of correspondence insisting that PELTIER not be released full of falsehood, slurs, and innuendo.
I had wondered for some time what the collective noun for FBI Agents was, but it seems “gaggle” is to be used as is the case for geese. Perhaps we could can now say Flock of U.S. Marshals or Swarm of ATF Agents.
The complaint then continued with the alleged violations:
This is a particularly crucial time for PELTIER to have visibility as his petition for clemency has been submitted to President Obama to review and act on before he leaves office, and, as mentioned, is in very poor health and faces death in prison if he is not released. In preparation for a planned art display to Celebrate Native American Heritage month (November, 2015) in the lobby of its Headquarters building in Tumwater, employees of the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries solicited loans of art by Native Americans to be up for the entire month. An employee of L& I, the agency that deals with labor and workplace issues for the State offered to, and was given approval to arrange for the loan of four paintings by LEONARD PELTIER.
With his father’s and the family’s approval, CHAUNCEY PELTIER selected four appropriate paintings and arranged for them to be conveyed from his Portland, OR gallery to Tumwater.
The paintings themselves were not of a particularly controversial nature, but were a major part of LEONARD PELTIER’S public expression on American Indian and related themes, and a crucial part of his petitioning the government for redress of grievances.
I find it rather curious that this was a crucial part of petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. Since employees, according to this complaint and information I have obtained on my own accord, have assisted Leonard Peltier to further his petition of grievances by acting as his agent to do so and state employees allegedly solicited the Peltiers for this cause.
By means unknown to Plaintiffs, Defendants WOODS and LANGBERG became aware of the inclusion of LEONARD PELTIER’s work in the exhibit, and wrote the previously referred to vicious and libelous letters demanding the removal of the art work.
Despite the fact that, by their own admission, State Officials received no more than four negative comments about including the paintings and hundreds, if not thousands in support of their inclusion, Defendants SACKS, INSLEE, and CHURCH made the decision, without any public process, to remove LEONARD PELTIER’s paintings, by their own admission, solely because PELTIER himself was controversial and because he had painted them.
On November 15, 2015, SACKS and CHURCH directed an employee (identity unknown) to simply remove the four paintings and replace them with other Native American art Sacks found unobjectionable. Despite many pleas for the restoration of the paintings, and explanations as to the illegality of the removal, SACKS, INSLEE, and CHURCH refused to put the paintings back up, sending form e-mails and letters explaining that LEONARD PELTIER was too controversial and that having his art up, and the controversy around “detracted from the message of the exhibit” which was unspecified. None of the decision-makers was themselves Native American[.]
The paintings were returned to CHAUNCEY PELTIER who was able to find a far less visible and smaller private venue at a local food co-op, as a way to mitigate damages, but there mostly reached an audience that knew who LEONARD PELTIER was and what he had to say.
STATEMENT OF DAMAGES
As a direct and proximate result of the intentional and/or negligent acts of DEFENDANTS, PLAINTIFFS sustained deprivation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights, right to be free of race discrimination, right to be not be subjected to a hostile, discriminatory environment, right to be free of government censorship based on the personal political controversy surrounding them, and right to be free of censorship by the government to reward the “Heckler’s veto.”.
As a further direct and proximate result of the intentional and negligent acts of the DEFENDANTS, PLAINTIFFS were deprived of legitimate public expression for no justified reason at a critical time for LEONARD PELTIER’s public visibility and attempts to petition the g9overnment for redress of grievances and to use his art to influence public policy.. [sic]
As a further direct and proximate result of the intentional and/or negligent acts of DEFENDANTS, PLAINTIFFS had to retain legal counsel to protect and vindicate their rights in court at an amount to be established at trial and for which they are entitled to be reimbursed.
As a further direct and proximate result of the intentional and negligent acts of the DEFENDANTS, PLAINTIFFS is [sic] entitled to compensation for costs associated with seeking redress for these specific harms.
PLAINTIFS [sic] are entitled to compensation for the Constitutional and personal harms DEFENDANTS inflicted on them.
CAUSES of ACTION
Violation of Constitutional Rights
PLAINTIFFS re-allege and incorporate herein by reference the allegations set forth in Paragraphs 1 through 4.5 of this complaint.
By deliberately removing and censoring Plaintiff LEONARD PELTIER’S paintings due solely to the identity of the artist and controversy surround ding [sic] him and his case, Defendants engaged in First Amendment violative conduct to the harm of Plaintiffs. See Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010),[.]
By allowing the objecting voices of Woods, Langberg, and potentially two others to induce them to remove the paintings in question from the exhibit, Defendants allowed a heckler’s veto to determine whose speech would be allowed in direct violation of Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights as defined by Terminello v. City of Chicago 337 U.S. 1(1949).
By removing Plaintiff’ LEONARD PELTIER’s art from an important public exhibition without any hearing or public process, or due consideration, Defendants deprived Plaintiffs of an important property right, contracted opportunity, and opportunity to display his art to potential purchasers and politically motivated viewers in violation of Plaintiffs’ Substantive and procedural Due Process rights under the 14th Amendment.
This censorship and removal caused considerable pain, emotional distress, potential economic loss, deprivation of an already established public forum, and other harm to PLAINTIFFS in an amount to be proved in trial.
VIOLATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS BY DECISION-MAKERS
PLAINTIFFS reallege and incorporate herein by reference the allegations set forth in Paragraphs 1 through 5.6 of this complaint.
Defendants Sacks is the highest decision-maker at his agency, the Department of Labor and Industries.
Defendant Inslee, as Governor is the highest decision-maker in the State.
In acting to remove and censor Plaintiffs’ artwork based on who he is and the controversy surrounding his case, these Defendants acted to set policy as the only ones who can do so for their agency and the State respectively.
The decision was made not because of any clear and present danger, nor because the art itself was likely to result in any harm, but solely because a few people of alleged influence were offended.
The conduct of DEFENDANTS was willful, malicious, 1 oppressive, and/or reckless, and was of such a nature that punitive damages should be imposed in an amount commensurate with the wrongful acts alleged herein.
VIOLATIONS OF WASHINGTON CONSTITUTION, ARTICLE I §§ 3,4, AND 5
PLAINTIFFS reallege and incorporates herein by reference the allegations set forth in Paragraphs 1 through 5.12 of this complaint.
Defendants in planning and ordering Plaintiffs’ paintings removed as described above for the reasons described above violated Plaintiffs’ rights to Free Expression, to Peaceably Petition the Government for Redress, and the Right to Due 15 Process (Sections 5, 4, and 3 respectively)
As a direct and proximate result of the violation of their rights by DEFENDANTS, PLAINTIFFS suffered general and special damages as alleged in this complaint.
The conduct of DEFENDANTS was willful, malicious, oppressive, and/or reckless, and was of such a nature that punitive damages should be imposed in an amount commensurate with the wrongful acts alleged herein.
PLAINTIFFS reallege and incorporate herein by reference the allegations set forth in Paragraphs 1 through 5.16 of this complaint.
In demanding that Washington L & I and the State itself remove the paintings by Plaintiff LEONARD PELTIER, these Defendants used and relied on kno0wingly [sic] untrue statements, libelous characterizations of LEONARD PELITIER, staggering hyperbole, and recitations of “facts” that they reasonably knew or should have known were untrue for the sole purpose of silencing LEONARD PELTIER and
causing emotional harm to Plaintiffs.
They, in e-mails and letters published these defamatory statements to Defendants CHURCH, SACKS, and INSLEE, and those statements resulted in the harm suffered by Plaintiffs, as admitted by all Defendants.
These statements and actions were part of a longstanding pattern of statements and actions by WOODS and LANGBERG and the manifestation of their single-minded obsession with ensuring that LEONARD PELTIER dies in 0prison [sic] and is silenced at every opportunity and are taken out of, pure malice and hatred.
INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS
PLAINTIFFS reallege and incorporate herein by reference the allegations set forth in Paragraphs 1 through 5.20 of this complaint.
In carrying out the pattern of Constitutionally prohibited and wrongful conducts alleged throughout this complaint, DEFENDANTS, and each of them sought to cause emotional distress and trauma to PLAINTIFFS, and PLAINTIFFS did suffer such emotional distress with accompanying physical symptoms.
As a direct and proximate result of the violation of their Constitutional rights by DEFENDANTS, PLAINTIFFS suffered general and special damages as alleged in this complaint.
The acts and omissions of DEFENDANTS were extreme and outrageous, and would be so seen and would shock the conscience of a reasonable person.
The conduct of DEFENDANTS was willful, malicious, oppressive, extreme and outrageous and/or reckless, and was of such a nature that punitive damages should be imposed in an amount commensurate with the wrongful acts alleged herein.
Plaintiffs re-allege and incorporate herein by reference the allegations set 6 forth in Paragraphs 1 through 5.25 of this complaint.
Defendants, and each of them, owed Plaintiffs a duty to use due care and Act in accordance with law and the State and Federal Constitutions.
In committing the aforementioned acts and/or omissions, Defendants, all of whom were in a position to know better, and each of them, negligently breached said duty, directly and proximately resulting in the injuries and damages to the Plaintiffs as alleged herein.
The complaint demands a jury trial and seeks damages for pain and suffering, economic losses, punitive damages, attorney fees, and a policy “not to make decisions to exclude or remove artwork due to controversy surrounding the artist, and such other education and injunctive relieve as the court may deem appropriate.”
Whether this case will survive past a summary judgment is something I will not address but I have my doubts. Again, I find it rather curious the plaintiff several times refers to an agreement with state actors to financially promote the art, as evidenced by the claim for lost revenue, and to support the cause of obtaining a pardon from President Obama. I do not believe this is a legitimate state interest and the collusion of state agents with the Peltiers to accomplish these goals is at the very least a conflict of interest.
There is one very likely tangential outcome of this lawsuit. I suspect other government agencies will view the lawsuit and surrounding controversy as being something to avoid and that not hosting Mister Peltier’s artwork will probably prevail in their decision making. A pyrrhic victory might be the end result, provided the state does not want to make the matter go away quickly by offering a settlement acceptable to the plaintiffs.
The attorney for the Peltiers is listed in the complaint as Lawrence Hildes of Bellingham. I don’t know what caliber of lawyer he is but filing a complaint in federal court that contains a litany of spelling and grammar errors is not something I would prefer to see from my attorney.
By Darren Smith
Source: Peltier v. Sacks, et al via Pacer
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.