Three officers from the Austin Police Department (APD) are under the gun this month in the trial of protestors involved in a 2011 Occupy event that blocked the entrance to the Port of Houston as part of a larger national action called "Occupy the Port."
Ronnie Garza of Austin was one of 15 Texans arrested by Houston police during the Dec. 12 human barricade.
While eight people were charged with misdemeanors for obstructing the port entrance, Garza was among a group of seven activists given a more severe felony charge for locking themselves together with a sleeve made of PVC pipes and chains — a device known as a "lockbox," "sleeping dragon" or "dragon sleeve."
"The police knew these kids would get a charge of felony for using the devices, instead of just a misdemeanor. They set them up."
The Gulf Port 7, as they're now called, are charged with "manufacturing a criminal weapon." One of the protestors, 24-year-old Iraq War vet Eric Marquez, has been unable to shell out the $25,000 bond and remains in a Harris County jail.
Last week, Garza and his pro bono attorney Greg Gladden delivered materials and documents to Harris County district judge Joan Campbell pointing to the involvement of Shannon Dowell, an Austin police officer who reportedly infiltrated the Occupy Austin movement by posing as a mild-mannered, bearded protestor named "Butch."
With the aid of two other undercover agents known as "Rick" and "Dirk," Dowell allegedly encouraged the use of the lockboxes during Occupy Austin meetings, eventually going so far as to make the devices himself and deliver them to the protest group. According to The Austin Chronicle, APD assistant chief Sean Mannix claims that Dowell wanted to make sure the lockboxes were built correctly so the protest would be safe.
"They promoted the use of these plastic sleeves, manufactured them, and sent them out to Houston," Gladden tells CultureMap. "The police knew these kids would get a charge of felony for using the devices, instead of just a misdemeanor. They set them up."
So far, the identities of Rick and Dirk have been kept under wraps by the APD, which also worked with the Texas Fusion Center — a branch of the Texas Department of Public Safety that coordinates state law enforcement with federal agencies like the FBI, the DEA and the Department of Homeland Security.
"If the police continue to refuse to give their names, we're hopeful that the case will get dismissed by the judge," Gladden explains, noting that knowledge of the Occupy infiltration, which he calls "serious" and "chilling," goes as high as the chief of police.
During a Wednesday morning press conference, assistant Austin police chief David Carter said that neither he nor his fellow high-ranking officials knew that the undercover agents provided the lockboxes. Gladden, meanwhile, says he filed a motion on July 3 clearly describing Butch's participation.