On Aug 4, 2003 Sherman Austin was sentenced to a year in federal prison by judge Steven V. Wilson for a link he had on his web site (Raisethefist.com) to another page that contained information on explosive materials which he did not author. Austin was also sentenced to 3 years of strict probation in which he cannot have access to a computer or knowingly associate with any individuals or organizations who espouse violence for political or social change.. This of course to be determined by the government when and wherever they choose. Aside from this Austin continues to face harassment from local and federal law enforcement agencies including the FBI who for the past 11 months have denied the return of Austin's property which was seized from his home on the Jan 24 2002 raid by 25 well-armed FBI and Secret Service agents from the joint-terror task force. We speak with Austin about the latest developments in his case.
Where does your case stand now?
Since my release we have been trying to get the computers back which were taken in the 2002 raid. Only a few months before I was released the FBI agreed to return the computers. My mom and my brother went to pick them up with the assistance of legal council. When they arrived special agent John I. Pi [head FBI agent on the case] made sure all of the hard drives were removed before giving them back. When confronted about this he said that all the data was being destroyed. We decided to hire a private lawyer to pursue this more aggressively. Since then the FBI has given us absolutely nothing but the runaround. Lies would accurate actually. When we requested that the data be returned a second time the FBI said the DA had it and was reviewing it for the possible state charges.
[6 months before Austin's release the FBI refered his case to the DA's office in downtown Los Angeles in attempt to prosecute him on a state level for the same charges they brought against him on a federal level.]
So my lawyer contacted the DA's office and they said they never received any physical data. They never have any hard drives. In fact all they had were hard copy print-outs handed to them by the FBI. So my lawyer consulted with the US Attorney, Ron Castro Silva and asked that the items be returned immediately because there was no reason for them to remain in the possession of the FBI. The FBI then grouped all of the hard drives together as "contraband" as an excuse not to return them.. of course ignoring the fact that several of the hard drives had absolutely nothing on them except music I had worked on. This nonsense with the FBI and US Attorney went back and forth, and continued to drag on. Every time we made a request they purposely waited months to respond hoping that we would forget about the hard drives seized from the raid which by the way proved that they fabricated evidence in numerous documents and lied to the court to successfully lock me up stick me with a felony conviction. We asked that the FBI make a list of which items were contraband and which were not. We waited and waited but received no response. Months later we finally heard back from the US Attorney who said SA John I. Pi hadn't been in the office recently because his father was apparently in the hospital and died. This was after 6 months of waiting. It took 6 months for them to wait for some event to come up as an excuse to buy time. My lawyer filed a complaint against John I. Pi with the head chief at the Department of Justice. They responded and said that if John Pi did not respond within 2 weeks there would be disciplinary actions. We waited almost another 2 months until the FBI finally got back and said they hadn't finished analyzing all the data and there was one last piece of data they had to analyze before submitting their analysis report. We waited.
Finally after waiting 11 months we received an analysis report which was nothing but a duplicate of the listed items seized but categorizing all the hard drives as "contraband". The date on the report read March 2005. We received it 2 months later in May. They gave us the runaround for 11 months and I doubt they did it just for kicks. They did it because they were nervous about the fact that we persisted in having the hard drives returned. So they had to buy time. If you ask me they destroyed the hard drives along time ago when John I. Pi initially said they did which was 6 months before I was even released from custody. This means they destroyed evidence prematurely. I think that's one of the main reasons they couldn't get the DA to charge me on a state level. They screwed up. If you ask me this messiness of not covering up lies to well has been consistent with John I. Pi's and the rest of the FBI's investigation. It's even in the 1500 pages of FBI discovery.. Where on one document it says that I admitted to authoring the web page with bomb making information on it known as "The Reclaim Guide" when in fact I had nothing to do with authoring, creating or implementing this site in any way. On another page in the discovery which they apparently forgot to black out it says Special Agent John I. Pi and another FBI agent paid a visit to the individual who actually did author the Reclaim Guide and all the explosives information and he even admitted to doing so. None of this was mentioned in court. None of this was mentioned to the judge. When it was mentioned to the US attorney Ron Castro Silva he said that I authored The Reclaim Guide. He lied. Where was he getting his information? Where else than from Special Agent John I. Pi. In cahoots with the head US attorney [his supervisor], the FBI, and John Ashcroft. All working together.
They didn't charge the individual who actually authored The Reclaim Guide with the explosives information on it and distributed it, as he stated, so the information could be used for an upcoming protest against the IMF. Instead they charged me with "Distribution of information related to explosives or weapons of mass destruction with the intent that it be used in a federal crime of violence". This is why they do not want to return the hard drives. It proves their guilt, it proves their cover-up, it proves their fabrication, it proves the injustice. At this point I'm trying to have a motion filed before the court for the return of the hard drives but I don't know what likely-hood of that will be since my legal funds have been pretty much depleted.
Have the stipulations of your probation or the nature of your felony conviction caused any problems since your release?
Well yes that really goes for any convicted felon getting out of prison and entering back into society. Especially if you're young and black or any person of color in america you've already got it hard as it is. You think it's hard enough trying to make ends meet in this world just wait until they slap you with that felony. They lock you up for a while and throw you back out to society with little or no foundation. What are you gonna do? Why do you think so many people go right back to hustling or whatever got them in locked up in the first place. I went through 5 jobs in 2 months. I was literally hired and fired once in the same day because of my felony. Before this case I worked as a free-lance web developer and I had been doing that since I was 14. That was the only job I had to support myself. That was taken away as part of stipulations of my probation. Why? I wasn't convicted for any kind of hacking, I didn't damage anything. It's because they're so afraid of having me near a computer because they saw what happened when I used one. They saw what happened with Raise the Fist and perhaps that did do some damage. People's voices were heard. It became a matter of national security. The computer restrictions had less to do with actually using a computer and more to do with making sure I remained silent. This was a political matter. It's always a political matter, that's how the injustice system works. 75% of the prison population is black, they lock you up and strip you from society, they set you in traps fit for poverty to keep you in the never-ending system of incarceration. People are railroaded by this system every day. I've seen kids railroaded into 14 years because they don't have enough money for a private attorney. I think this case is a reflection of the problems we all face.
Have you faced any harassment from law enforcement because of your case since you've been out?
The typical harassment from law enforcement and the FBI continues. Not long ago I tried to speak at a college about my case at a peaceful Food Not Bombs benefit event and the FBI made some phone calls. Before I got there the campus police asked the organizers where I was on the freeway, how far away I was, and who I was coming with. They beefed up security at the school and had several squad cars one of which was unmarked circling the premises the entire night. Just recently I was detained for "terrorist ties" in Burbank after some cop pulled me over because he thought I had drugs on me. He learned I was on probation for distribution of information related to explosives or weapons of mass destruction after he ran my name on the computer which showed him "terrorist ties". Two more units showed up before he searched my pockets and wallet as well as my car asking if I had any explosives on me.
Are there any plans for an appeal in court? Do you think the anti-war movement is playing a significant role in stopping situations like yours from happening in the future?
Once you sign a plea you cannot appeal it. I was threatened with 20 years in prison under an additional terrorist enhancement if I didn't take a plea, and I didn't have the financial resources to acquire the appropriate legal council for trial. I was railroaded. I could challenge the constitutionality of the law since nobody else has been convicted under the same statue. It's clearly a violation of the first amendment. I think regardless of any appeal in court there will still be political repression, they'll keep locking people up on trumped up charges, prisons will continue to overflow, our communities will continue to be occupied by police forces, U.S imperialism will still exist. The only true appeal to injustice is revolution. We have to respond in the means that are required to address. I think the anti-war movement would be more successful in acquiring this notion. For instance the workers movement in Argentina says 'resist, occupy, produce , stop asking and start taking.' That's exactly what we have to do right here at home.www.la.indymedia.org/news/2005/07/132174.phpE-mail this article