Judge rebukes feds for ‘lack of diligence, attention to detail’ in failure to secure Facebook material
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on September 15, 2016 at 5:00 AM, updated September 15, 2016 at 11:11 AM
Oregon standoff trial
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- Oregon standoff trial: Wednesday highlights, and what’s next
- Judge rebukes feds for ‘lack of diligence, attention to detail’ in failure to secure Facebook material
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U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown said she was troubled by FBI agents’ failure to destroy or seal Facebook account information considered irrelevant to the Oregon standoff case in a timely manner, blaming the six-month delay on the government’s “seemingly nonchalant” efforts, according to a written ruling.
She admonished the government for its “obvious lack of diligence, attention to detail” and failure to follow the terms of the search warrant for the Facebook evidence obtained.
“This should not have happened in any case, and, in any event, is particularly unacceptable in the context of this high profile, complex prosecution with seemingly extraordinary resources being expended at every turn,” Brown wrote.
The judge said she expects the federal government’s lapses in its handling of evidence, as spotlighted in the Oregon standoff case, to be addressed going forward.
“The Court trusts the USAO (U.S. Attorney’s Office) and the investigators on whom it relies will take appropriate actions to address the oversights in this case to ensure they are not repeated in the future,” Brown wrote in a ruling filed in court Wednesday.
But Brown said the violations of the search warrant’s provisions were not enough to warrant the suppression of the Facebook evidence, as defense lawyers had sought.
“Although the government’s delay in sealing and/or destroying nonresponsive Facebook information was unreasonable, it was not sufficiently egregious to justify the suppression of a significant amount of evidence that was otherwise lawfully obtained under the totality of the circumstances,” Brown wrote in her 31-page opinion.
The judge’s rebuke comes as the trial against Ammon Bundy and six co-defendants is underway. The defendants have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to impede federal employees at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge through intimidation, threats or force in a case stemming from a 41-day occupation of the federal wildlife refuge outside of Burns.
The matter stemmed from a search and seizure warrant that a federal magistrate judge granted the federal government in April for the Facebook accounts belonging to 23 of the 26 defendants indicted on a federal conspiracy charge. Eleven have pleaded guilty to conspiracy; seven others are set for trial on Feb. 14. The indictment was dismissed against one defendant, Pete Santilli.
On Aug. 3, defense lawyer Per C. Olson discovered that the U.S. Attorney’s Office improperly handed over raw material from 11 Facebook accounts belonging to 10 defendants in the case, which were considered irrelevant and should have been kept under seal, to all 26 defendants in the federal conspiracy case.
Two litigation specialists in the Oregon U.S. Attorney’s office said they were responsible for the transfer of the improper material to defendants in the case. The judge found their mistakes were inadvertent, arising from confusion about the roles and responsibilities of those working on the office’s filter team, tasked with segregating out any attorney-client privileged information, as well as relevant from non-relevant Facebook data.
Judge Brown had indicated in court on Monday how she would rule on the matter, but issued her formal written finding and analysis on Wednesday.
— Maxine Bernstein