Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

January 21, 2014

Federal government willfully breaches constitutional protections

— — On Aug. 16, 2012, Chesterfield County, Va. police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Brandon Raub's home, asking to speak with him about his Facebook posts. Mr. Raub, a decorated Marine who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, uses his Facebook page like millions of other Americans, to post items and comments, including his political opinions.

Without providing any explanation, levying any charges or reading him his rights, law enforcement officials handcuffed Mr. Raub and transported him to police headquarters, then to John Randolph Medical Center, where he was forcibly detained in a psychiatric ward for a week against his will.

For having the temerity to express his opinions, Mr. Raub was kept in custody for an evaluation based on the opinion of one Michael Campbell, a psychotherapist hired by local law enforcement that had never interviewed Mr. Raub, but somehow felt he was capable of determining that the former Marine might be a danger. Psychiatrists at the mental institution, however, found nothing wrong with him.

According to The Rutherford Institute, which is representing the former Marine, in a hearing on Aug. 20 government officials pointed to the Facebook posts as the reason for incarceration.

While Mr. Raub stated that the Facebook posts were being read out of context, a special justice ordered that he be held up to 30 more days for psychological evaluation and treatment. But Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett ordered his immediate release a short time later because the concerns raised by the officers were “so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy.”

When the government's case came before U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson in Richmond, Va., he dismissed it.

Mr. Raub then sued the officers for taking him into custody without sufficient cause and for his subsequent mistreatment. A request by the offending officers to dismiss the case against them has been rejected.

“Brandon Raub's case exposes the seedy underbelly of a governmental system that continues to target military veterans for expressing their discontent over America's rapid transition to a police state,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.

“While such targeting of veterans and dissidents is problematic enough, for any government official to suggest that they shouldn't be held accountable for violating a citizen's rights on the grounds that they were unaware of the Constitution's prohibitions makes a mockery of our so-called system of representative government. Thankfully, Judge Hudson has recognized this imbalance and ensured that Brandon Raub will get his day in court,” he said.

Hudson has ordered limited discovery allowing Rutherford to demand what information federal and local authorities knew about Mr. Raub before he was detained for a mental evaluation.

The Institute called the decision a victory for free speech and the right to be free from wrongful arrest and presented facts indicating that the involuntary commitment violated Mr. Raub's rights under the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The complaint alleges that the attempt to label Mr. Raub as “mentally ill” and his subsequent involuntary commitment was a pretext designed to silence speech critical of the government.

A Richmond Times-Dispatch story noted: “Much of the information about Raub's alleged mental condition was developed after his arrest and emergency mental assessment, but [Judge] Hudson notes in the opinion [allowing the suit against law enforcement officials] that “there is no indication that any defendant was aware of the specific contents of (emails and statements Raub was making) before Raub's arrest."

Attorneys from The Rutherford Institute charge the seizure and detention were the result of a federal government program code-named “Operation Vigilant Eagle” that involves the systematic surveillance of military veterans who express views critical of the government, according to information on the Institute's website.

Of “Operation Vigilant Eagle” the Wall Street Journal reports that “the Federal Bureau of Investigation [in 2009] launched a nationwide operation targeting white supremacists and 'militia/sovereign-citizen extremist groups,' including a focus on veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to memos sent from bureau headquarters to field offices,” and that “a similar warning was issued … by the Department of Homeland Security.”

So, the FBI and Homeland Security view military veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan like white supremacists and extremist groups, and then on flimsy or non-existent evidence, take them into custody and confine them for mental evaluation?

It will be interesting to see how the government and these agents defend their action at trial.

Many, perhaps most Americans, are well served by state and local law enforcement that behave within the law and respect the privacy and freedom of those they serve until evidence is presented warranting arrest. However, those who initiated and carried out the persecution of Brandon Raub, including the psychotherapist, deserve to be strongly disciplined and perhaps fined and criminally charged for their illegal and unconstitutional behavior, and when the case is resolved, maybe they will be.

Such a resolution would likely get the attention of federal officials who improperly unleash the force of government against innocent citizens, and restore respectful treatment of citizens by the government that exists to serve them.

James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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