Iowa Protesters Charged After Bulletin Is Pulled From Officer’s Back Pocket And Shown On Television

download-4We have been discussing protest related charges that raises troubling or novel issues.  The charges against two protesters Viet Tran, 21, and Alexandria Dea, 26, are both. They are charged under a little known (and even less used) law barring unauthorized dissemination of intelligence data. The data came in the form of a Des Moines Police Department bulletin that was pulled from the back pocket of a police officer during struggles with protesters.

The bulletin contained photos of suspects who were wanted in the destruction of a Des Moines police car during a June 20th protest.  Dea is accused of pulling the bulletin out of the back pocket.  Tran then allegedly displaying and discussing a stolen Des Moines police document during an interview broadcast on a local TV station.

This is only the second time that the charge has been used in an actual case, but it can bring as high as five years in jail.

As always, I tend to approach these cases from the perspective of a criminal defense attorney.  However, I find the charges troubling, particularly as to Tran.  Dea is accused of actually stealing the bulletin from the possession of an officer.  Tran somehow came into possession of that document.  If a reporter had come into possession, the reporter would have likely discussed the document on television as a newsworthy find despite the words on the document warning that it dissemination is a crime.

The other concern is that this is a widely produced document in the field.  It is certainly true that it reflects police intelligence (and also contains potentially sensitive information for the individuals).  However, when dispersed into a riot situation, it seems likely that some copies may be compromised or lost.  There is also the failure of the officer to adequately protect that information if it was highly sensitive. Conversely, there was a reason for the officer to have the document (and losing control of it). Three of the suspects had been arrested inside the Capitol when protesters moved against them.  The officers were dealing with the threat when Dea is accused of lifting the document.

Legally, the prosecutors can argue that there is no difference between removing such a document from a pocket or from a desk.  Dea could argue that the document actually had already fallen out of the pocket.

I think that the legal framing becomes more difficult if the document is found or is transferred into someone’s possession like Tran.  I would also ask if this bulletin was already public information.  An all-points bulletin (APB) is often based on the same information posted on social media and on actual bulletin boards in public areas of the police precinct. Usually the police post pictures of suspects being sought in crimes. Indeed, the protected categories is quite broad and ambiguous.  Protected information includes anything “compiled in an effort to anticipate, prevent, or monitor possible criminal activity.” Photos are routinely shared publicly to enlist the help of the media and the public. If that is the case, the criminal penalties for showing the same information would seem excessive.

Finally, if Tran is guilty of displaying the information, why isn’t the television crew also guilty.  Both could see the warning on the document.  The reporter showed the bulletin and tweeted the photos.  Obviously, the reporter is carrying out a first amendment function but prosecutors have actually refused to recognize that function as a license to violate criminal law. This is a long-standing controversy, particularly with the publication of national security information by investigative reporters.

For Tran, the situation is even more serious because he is being held for violating the terms of his probation from an assault case when he interfered with officers at the July 1 protest.

 

 

21 thoughts on “Iowa Protesters Charged After Bulletin Is Pulled From Officer’s Back Pocket And Shown On Television”

  1. At issue is “police intelligence”. Identities of suspects can, if broadcast or widely disseminated over activist networks can place people who cooperate with the police in danger (a “popular tagline among activist networks is “snitches need stitches”). We’re in a highly-charged situation in whcih even law enforcement and members of competing activist networks are being injured or killed. The applicability of the law outlawing dissemination of police intelligence information is a matter for the courts to decide.

  2. In 2012 Obama needed a Marius van der Lubbe to blame his own little Reichstag fire in our Benghazi diplomatic mission on – and there was this hapless Egyptian Copt immigrant who’d made an uncomplimentary YouTube video about Mohammed. Like Alexandria Dea, the filmmaker had been found guilty of some minor scam and released on Federal probation, which would be revoked should he use the Internet. Problem solved!

    He was doubtless told that if he tried to denounce the Obama administration’s house of cards, he’d serve even more time than he was looking at while Eric Holder was slandering him.

    Dea is a very unwise protester. He assaulted someone earlier, was found guilty, and released on probation. Even though picking a cop’s pocket is small beer as crimes go, it’s enough misconduct to justify sending Dea back to jail for violating his probation. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes! Problem solved!

  3. Where are all the Americans?

    What the —- is Charlie doing in America?

    The barbarians are inside the gate.

    Call in “danger close” fire support.

    Our position has been overrun.

    The American Founders must be rolling over in their graves.

  4. The end of the article gets to an aspect not discussed. The reporter has first amendment rights. The other human now charged has some rights under the First. To assemble, go speak, to promote a free press and expression of ideas.
    If the information isn’t secret mister cop then put it in your pocket.

  5. The individual who took the document from the cop’s pocket should be charged with theft. No different than if she were a pick-pocket and lifted his wallet. But charging someone for discussing or disseminating information that is already in the public domain is an abuse of discretion. Anyone can go on the internet and purchase reports of supposedly private or sensitive info. If I type in my own name, ads will pop up offering to sell info about me. I wish that were not the case, and that consumers had more privacy rights, but Congress has chosen not to protect us, and data brokers purchase SSNs, drivers license numbers, name, address, age, employment info and everything else from banks, mortgage and insurance cos, etc. and resell it for profit. So to allege that this young man was disseminating “private or sensitive” information is simply not true. Putting otherwise publicly available info on an “official” letterhead doesn’t render it protected. Once it’s public, it’s public.

    1. “So to allege that this young man was disseminating “private or sensitive” information is simply not true.”

      This reveals a very poor understanding of open records law. nothing in the post indicated that this particular information had been released publicly by the police. In every state I’m aware of, law enforcement records are not public information as such.

      Chapter 22 of the Iowa Code identifies as confidential information, among many other things

      “Peace officers’ investigative reports, privileged records or information specified in
      section 80G.2, and specific portions of electronic mail and telephone billing records of law
      enforcement agencies if that information is part of an ongoing investigation, except where
      disclosure is authorized elsewhere in this Code. However, the date, time, specific location,
      and immediate facts and circumstances surrounding a crime or incident shall not be kept
      confidential under this section, except in those unusual circumstances where disclosure
      would plainly and seriously jeopardize an investigation or pose a clear and present danger
      to the safety of an individual. Specific portions of electronic mail and telephone billing
      records may only be kept confidential under this subsection if the length of time prescribed
      for commencement of prosecution or the finding of an indictment or information under the
      statute of limitations applicable to the crime that is under investigation has not expired”

      Certain enumerated items relating to ongoing investigations are releasable, but the list does not include photographs or identifying information regarding at large suspects.

  6. So Tran is essentially a Viet Cong.

    I’ve always wondered when this was going to happen here in the States.

    The Dinks reincarnate here.

    1. All those tattoos on his face and neck suggest that he was born here. That’s not something that would be acceptable in a traditional Asian culture. Americans, unfortunately, think it’s cool to look like trash.

  7. “Pulling the document out of the back pocket of a police officer’ is a separate issue from what should or should not have been done with it after that act. Stealing from the officer or crossing some other line stands alone as a potential crime. Dea picked the cop’s pocket. This is theft, cut and dry.

    A defense against this could be that the document had dropped and Dea simply found it, but then we’re in the realm of the responsibility of the citizen, eg bank accidentally deposits money in one’s account; if you invest it but give it back eventually or keep it are you breaking the law, etc.

    Displaying the information involves intent, which involves ignorance of any law that might exist, etc. If it is done, why is it done, should the alleged be obligated to know the purpose and protection of the document….

    Hard to argue against theft. The rest ventures into basic freedoms and the responsibilities involved. Any lawyer could argue that both ways until the cows come home.

  8. “I think that the legal framing becomes more difficult if the document is found or is transferred into someone’s possession like Tran. I would also ask if this bulletin was already public information.”

    Yes, it is. As you’ve pointed out nicely, it can’t be considered private if it’s okay for some to release it and not for others. If allowed to stand it sets up that planted evidence dynamic, put something in a suspect’s pocket and arrest them for having possession.

  9. Prosecute the rioters, but don’t use novel or marginal laws.

    Given that many of these riots are (ostensibly) about police abuses and too much police power, using this law just reinforces public suspicion on the subject.

    Prosecutors are getting lazy or vindictive; neither is appropriate for justice.

  10. Tran has admitted to his part in a crime on TV. The television station is just the medium. I do not see the station being at risk.

    1. The t.v. station is not at risk because the reporter did not steal the document. They’re just reporting about info that someone else obtained. And that’s what they’re supposed to do, if the info is newsworthy. Because they’re the press.

  11. You’ve got anarchists rioting in the streets and the debate is how many of them can dance on the head of an intelligence document? It’s like wondering how many paper clips were lost in the towers on 9-11.

    1. I’m betting the Professor is on the spectrum. Which is helpful to the commonweal inasmuch as it makes him immune to bandwagon effects.

      1. That has occurred to me, too with his rigidity, makes me wonder about a lot of folks, actually, though I’m not prepared to start diagnosing people. To whit: yes, it’s true that the the *concept* of a free press is critical to the well-being of our union, its execution even better, but what we actually *have* at present IS the enemy of the people. This is a resurgence of the aristocracy, and that’s all there is to it. I guarantee you that no one writing for Bezos has ever eaten government cheese. That goes for the lot of them, including this kid. His parents were likely of means for him to be able to be a child here in the first place. It’s pretty sickening how willing the left are to exploit children.

        1. James – don’t knock that government cheese, it was really good. And the peanut butter was even better. 🙂

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