Two people jailed for refusing to testify before a grand jury were released Thursday after a federal judge ruled their continued incarceration wouldn’t change their minds.
Katherine Olejnik and Matthew Duran were held in contempt in September, after declining to answer questions relating to the investigation of a May Day protest that damaged the William Kenzo Nakamura U. S. Courthouse in downtown Seattle.
A third person, Matthew Pfeiffer, remains jailed on civil contempt charges. A fourth, Leah Lynn Plante, of Portland, was released in October, after a week in detention.
None of the four is suspected of criminal involvement in the courthouse damage. Instead, they were held for declining to cooperate with prosecutors asking questions about people they know.
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A search warrant affidavit obtained by The Seattle Times makes it clear that investigators, led by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, are focusing on a small group of Portland anarchists.
The law allows a judge to hold people in civil contempt if they refuse to cooperate with a grand-jury investigation. U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones jailed Olejnik and Duran in September. The idea is that incarceration would coerce them to cooperate.
“You hold the key to your freedom,” he told one of the four. In other words, as soon as they testified, they would be released.
Olejnik, an activist who graduated from Evergreen College last year, and her roommate, Duran, who works in computer security, repeatedly declined to take Jones up on the offer.
Attorneys for the pair have argued that, five months later, it’s well-proved incarceration hasn’t led to cooperation. Thus, they argued in motions before the court, continuing to hold them amounts to punishment rather than truth-seeking — and that’s not allowed.
Judge Jones agreed. After reading declarations written by Olejnik and Duran, he concluded in a written order that “their resolve appears to increase as their confinement continues. Each of them points out that to testify now would mean that the past five months of their confinement was for naught.”
In addition to the empaneling of an ongoing grand jury, the investigation has included at least five search warrants, surveillance in two states and a review of hundreds of hours of videotape and photos.
Federal investigators are determined to nab the black-clad protesters who caused what authorities say was tens of thousands of dollars of damage to the courthouse. While the May Day protests started off peacefully, law enforcement says the situation grew tense as about a dozen black-clad protesters surged at the building with sticks and spray paint.
In addition to the courthouse, protesters targeted businesses and banks; they slashed tires, broke windows and scrawled graffiti as they made their way through downtown.
Seattle police arrested eight people, eventually dropping charges in all but three cases. Of those, only one served jail time — about two months.
Maureen O’Hagan: 206-464-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org Reporter Mike Carter contributed to this story.