Terror-related messages lead to lawsuit
A man arrested in 2004 for driving a van splattered with inflammatory statements has filed a federal lawsuit against the Grass Valley Police Department.
The suit alleges that Grass Valley officers infringed on Matthew Fogel’s civil liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom from search and seizure when they arrested him on May 25, 2004, for writing terrorism-related messages on his van.
The messages were: “I am a f$*#ing suicide bomber communist terrorist! Pull me over! Please, I dare ya. Allah Praise the Patriot Act. F%@&ing Jihad on the First Amendments! P.S. W.O.M.D. on board!”
“The defendants had no warrant for (Fogel’s) arrest, no probable cause to believe he had committed an offense, and had not observed (him) commit any offense in their presence,” the lawsuit states. “The defendants had no legal cause or excuse to seize the person.”
The suit targets the police department in general, as well as officers Jason Perry, Wesley Collins, Greg McKenzie, Gary McClaughry, Sgt. Michael Hooker and then-Capt. Jerod Johnson.
“The statements he made were because of his frustration with the country’s actions in Iraq, not because he is a violent person,” said Megan T. Burns, Fogel’s attorney. “That was sarcasm on his part – he was trying to make a political statement.”
Fogel, then 22, parked his 1970 Volkswagen van in a parking on the 350 block of Bennett Street. Soon after, someone called police and complained about the statements written on the back of the vehicle.
“(Sgt.) Hooker went to the parking lot … to investigate the complaint, and came to the conclusion that the statements were political satire,” the suit read. “However, after conferring with … Johnson, defendant Michael Hooker was instructed to initiate a criminal investigation.”
According to the suit, Johnson instructed the other officers to arrest Fogel, which they did. He was charged with making a false bomb threat, threatening a crime and using offensive words in a public place.
Hooker had the van towed and ordered the towing company not to release it back to Fogel until the statements were removed, the lawsuit states.
Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster said no one from the department could comment on a pending suit, and deferred questions to Grass Valley’s city attorney, who did not return phone calls Thursday.
At the time of the arrest, Grass Valley Police Sgt. Dave Bishop explained why Fogel was arrested.
“In this day and age, coupled with the statements on the car, it was enough to arouse suspicion. It certainly rose to the level of a criminal act,” Bishop said last May.
It was unclear Thursday how the criminal case against Fogel was resolved.
In the lawsuit, Fogel seeks to be repaid for the money he spent to bail himself out of jail, other damages and court fees. Besides infringement of civil liberties, the lawsuit alleges that Fogel was arrested falsely and was verbally battered while in custody.
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