Briana Waters, 32 and “a devoted, loving mother and partner, a dedicated musician and violin teacher, and a caring friend to many” has been found guilty by a jury of two counts of arson on the basis of her acting as a lookout for others while they set fire to the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington in 2001. She faces up to five years in prison on each count.
Briana’s trial is the latest chapter in the FBI’s ‘Operation Backfire’, also referred to as the Green Scare. (Details of crimes and sentencing as of August 2007 are available via the Fidelity Bravery and Integrity website: Final Sentencing Hearing Held in Case of Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front for Acts of Eco-Terrorism in Five Western States.) Prior to the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, the Earth Liberation Front had been dubbed Domestic Terrorist Public Enemy #1 by the Bureau, and recent prosecutions are in some ways a return to and a culmination of earlier efforts. (A good analysis of the Green Scare — ‘Green Scared? Preliminary lessons of the Green Scare’ — and its implication for dissent is available in the latest issue of Rolling Thunder.) It’s interesting to note that much of the Government’s case has been based on the testimony of collaborating defendants and, in the case of Eric McDavid (due to be sentenced on April 3), the use of a Government plant.
Tacoma Jury Convicts Woman of Arson; Hangs on Other Counts
Civil Rights Outreach Committee
For immediate Release: March 6, 2008
Contacts: Kassey Baker, 360-561-5261 / Lauren Regan, Atty, Civil Liberties Defense Center, 541-687-9180
Tacoma, WA – A federal jury was unable to reach a decision on conspiracy and transportation of a destructive device but convicted Briana Waters, a 32-year-old mother and violin teacher and former resident of Olympia of arson. The government charged her with being a lookout in connection with the May, 2001 arson of the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington in Seattle. If convicted on all counts, Waters would have faced a sentence of 35 years. The two informants [Lacey Phillabaum and Jennifer Kolar] who testified against her in the case, who admitted to participating in the arson, face between three and seven years. Ms. Waters’ sentencing is set for May 30.
Without any physical evidence linking Ms. Waters directly to the arson, the government built its case on the testimony of the two informants, and a number of pieces of circumstantial evidence. The defense argued that the informants falsely accused Waters in order to avoid 35-year prison sentences themselves, and that their testimony was demonstrably false.
Among the pieces of circumstantial evidence introduced by the government was a folder with a note on the cover from Waters to one of the informants, Jennifer Kolar, containing various radical pamphlets and publications. Prosecutors highlighted the most sensationalist passages in the articles, and sought to ascribe these views to Ms. Waters. Waters testified that she did not write the materials, did not agree with them, and did not pass them to Kolar. The defense argued that the informant must have substituted other articles for the ones that Waters actually put in the folder. While Waters’ fingerprints were on the folder, they were not on any of the articles. The government countered that Waters’ boyfriend’s fingerprints were on the articles, and that he is a “fugitive” suspected of one or more arsons. The defense pointed out that the boyfriend is not on trial.
“The government’s case was primarily based on character assassination and guilt by association,” said civil rights attorney Ben Rosenfeld, a member of the Board of Directors of the Civil Liberties Defense Center. “Evidence of other people’s writings … should never have been allowed to be used against her.”
Briana Waters has maintained her innocence to all the charges. An appeal is likely.
This trial is another chapter in the federal government’s “Operation Backfire,” also dubbed the “Green Scare,” in which the government has hounded the environmental activist community, overcharged a number of individuals with a federal firearms enhancement applying to bombs and missiles, and branded them as terrorists, even though none of the events resulted in a single injury.
Central to the jury’s consideration of two of the charges against Ms. Waters was the question whether she was responsible for helping to build or transport explosive devices. The jury deadlocked on these charges. During the first stages of the investigation of the “Street of Dreams” fires in a housing development in Snohomish County, WA, officials falsely reported that explosive devices were found. Later, BATF Spokesman Kelvin Crenshaw [stated] that no such devices were found. “It is inconceivable that officials could have made such a mistake. It raises the question of deliberate jury tampering by the government, and also calls into question the reliability of the government’s information in general,” said Rosenfeld.
Briana Waters has steadfastly maintained her innocence.
Copies of a press packet with current related articles and background information are available from civilrightsoutreach(at)gmail.com. For more information, go [here].