CLUES Introduction





Are government agents above the law, or are the antinuclear vigilers just imagining it?

Review the record and decide for yourself.

If you decide that something is wrong with the system, C.L.U.E.S. gives us an opportunity to begin working together to rectify the situation.

On April 6, 1996, for no reason except that he refused to stop reciting the First Amendment, William Thomas had his nose bloodied, was arrested and jailed by Secret Service agents while tending his anti-nuclear signs outside the White House in Lafayette (Peace) Park.

For nine decades Lafayette Park has been the premier forum for public expression on the face of the planet. In 1917 the Suffragists were there, around the clock, against war and for women's right to vote. Since then whenever anything of national interest has happened, public opinion has found voice there. Civil rights were championed there, opposition to the Vietnam War was expressed there.

Supplied with literature, Concepcion Picciotto and William and Ellen Thomas have sought since 1981 to attract the attention of the general public -- some 3 million tourists a year come to see the White House -- to messages of broad public concern, and to the availability of free intellectual discourse in America's Free Speech front lines. (SEE Thomas v. News World Communications, 681 F. Supp. 55, 59 (1988).) The fourteen-plus year White House vigil has become enough of a First Amendment landmark to appear in two editions of the Berlitz Travel Guide (1991, 1994) over the caption, "it is the right of every American to take a stand and make a point in Lafayette Square."

Since the vigil began hundreds of people have helped to maintain this vigil for periods ranging from days to weeks to several years. Meanwhile the government has promulgated four regulations to stop it. The judicial system, that thin line of law which theoretically stands between civilization and chaos, has demonstrated that it is not particularly interested in listening to the vigilers' point of view.

But, as recorded in the annals of any law library, the vigil has been at the center of "an on- going conflict" with the prevalent power structure. The vigilers have alleged this conflict represents a pattern and practice by various police agencies of arbitrarily threatening, intimidating, and harassing individuals engaged in First Amendment exercise, as part of a policy intended to prohibit demonstrations "on an incremental basis."

After Thomas was convicted in 1988 of violating a convoluted definition of "camping," a "crime" which didn't exist when his vigil began, he explained to Judge Richey, "The reason that I've been staying in one place is because there's one of two possibilities: either I have something of value for people to hear, or I'm crazy. If I have something of value for people to hear, my experience leads me to believe that they can't take it in all at one sitting, and on numerous occasions I've had people who stopped and talked to me and maybe even went away angry the first time, but they've come back later and said, 'I listened to what you said. I thought about it after I left, and I want to hear some more.' So I stay in one place, first, as a symbolic effort to show dedication, commitment; secondly, to be available if something that I say rings a chord in someone's heart or mind and they want to come back and talk some more." United States v. Thomas and Thomas, CR. No. 88-0062, Sentencing transcript, January 28, 1988, pg. 6.

"As Justice Brandeis once said, you can't yell 'fire' in a theater," Judge Richey explained, immediately before sentencing Thomas to prison.

"The main problem here," Thomas claims, "is that the government has passed so many vague and standardless regulations that there is no law beyond the whim of the officer on the beat. If the officer says it's a crime, it's a crime. Basically the police can do whatever they like, and we have no recourse. This has had the effect of making Lafayette Park like Red Square, where, if the police say you're a 'hooligan,' they drag you into court, where the court agrees you're a hooligan."

"There has not been a single day when we did not have at least one First Amendment suit against us," says Richard Robbins, an assistant solicitor with the Department of Interior, who has made a career out of writing demonstration regulations for Lafayette Park.


On December 20, 1994 millions watched on national T.V. as Marcelino Corneil was shot to death on the White House sidewalk by U.S. Park Police Officer "X," as a direct result of on-going harassment by U.S. Park Police officer Stephen O'Neill.

Some 40 days before Marcelino's shooting Interior Department officials had received a certified letter from the vigilers complaining that Officer O'Neill had abused his official authority by repeatedly threatening to arrest Concepcion and the Thomases for possessing signs and flags in Lafayette Park.

On December 20th, shortly before Marcelino Corneil chased Officer O'Neill down the White House sidewalk (where he was quickly surrounded and isolated by five Park Police officers), Officer O'Neill had been kicking Marcelino and jabbing him with a nightstick. Particularly disturbed by Mr.Corneil's gratuitous death, which seemed to symbolize the ultimate abuse of police power, on December 22, 1994 Concepcion, Ellen and Thomas filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court, seeking an order to prevent police from threatening, harassing and intimidating people and interfering with freedom of expression in Lafayette Park.

In his court pleadings the U.S. Attorney defended Officer O'Neill's actions on the grounds that the officer suspected Marcelino of "camping," and was therefore entitled to "official immunity." The government did not contest the accuracy of even one of the allegations. Although on February 8, 1995 Judge Richey had issued an order, holding that the complaint was "not frivolous," 1995, Judge Richey issued another order, dismissing the complaint as to "Officer X" (who the Park Police still refused to identify), on the strength of "official immunity." and on August 23, 1995, Judge Richey issued another order dismissing the entire complaint on the grounds of "official immunity." On September 12, 1995 Judge Richey said an appeal would be "frivolous" and denied plaintiffs' motion for transcripts.

"The government and I filed a total of 134 motions, eighteen inches of paper, and the court never listened to one witness," Thomas reports. "'Official immunity' -- divine right of kings. The government can get away with murder, because the court system isn't interested in the facts. Have we really progressed beyond the middle ages?"

The appeals court held the case in abeyance until it could clarify its position on the breadth of "immunity." In the meantime, perhaps enboldened by the lack of judicial scrutiny of police actions, on April 6, 1996, for no reason except that he refused to stop reciting the First Amendment - Thomas had his nose bloodied, was arrested and jailed by Secret Service agents. What next?


APPEAL - US APP 95-5340