Olympia roommates Katherine “Kteeo” Olejnik and Matthew Duran were nowhere near Seattle’s May Day riot last year. But they say their refusal to identify friends’ political beliefs in a private grand-jury hearing about anarchist activity landed them in federal detention for five months — with several weeks of that time spent in solitary confinement.
A year after the rioting, they decided to be even farther away from Seattle’s May Day circus: This week, Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., invited them to speak on how difficult it’s been to recover from that experience.
“Solitary confinement is torture,” Duran said Wednesday.
Duran, 24, and Olejnik, 23, were isolated not because of any misbehavior at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center but because federal investigators were seeking to coerce their
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Proof of whereabouts
The roommates say they provided proof of their whereabouts on May Day, but investigators were more interested in their friends’ political activities — information Olejnik said the government didn’t deserve to know.
Both said they were blindsided by subpoenas Federal Bureau of Investigation detectives served to them in July. During last year’s riot, Olejnik was at work and Duran was playing board games with friends. According to an FBI affidavit, detectives had been investigating a small group of Portland-based anarchists who allegedly stopped in Olympia before taking part in May Day vandalism in Seattle.
Later, another Olympia friend, Matthew “Maddy” Pfeiffer, was also subpoenaed. He, too, was put in solitary confinement after being detained in December.
To this day, the friends speculate about why they were targeted but can think of only one solid reason.
“Of our large group of friends, we generally lead more normal lives,” Duran said. “Maybe they thought we had more to lose.”
Duran spent his first two weeks of detention in solitary confinement, then was returned to it Dec. 27 — where he stayed until he and Olejnik were released at the end of February. Olejnik spent her first six days of detention in solitary, was returned to it Dec. 27 and was kept there until at least Feb. 12.
With the exception of one monthly 15-minute phone call, their solitary confinement consisted of 24 hours of complete isolation with “exceedingly limited access to reading and writing material,” according to a federal court document.
“Their physical health has deteriorated sharply and their mental health has also suffered from the effects of solitary confinement,” said the federal order that eventually released them. “They have suffered the loss of jobs, income and important personal relationships.”
As grueling as their sentence was, Duran and Olejnik resolved to remain silent no matter how long or harsh their treatment.
“It was a choice I’d made and stuck by,” Duran said. “It’s not in me to aid the federal government’s investigation.”
The Recalcitrant Witness Statute could have kept both in detention for a maximum of 18 months, but a federal judge concluded that incarceration was not going to coerce testimony. The judge ordered their release Feb. 27. Their friend, Pfeiffer, was released in mid-April.
Olejnik said recovering is almost as tough as the incarceration.
“Getting out of prison is almost harder than being in prison,” Olejnik said of readjusting to society. “Every day gets easier, but it’s still the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced.”
After their release, Olejnik said she was able to return to a waitressing job at King Solomon’s Reef in Olympia, but Duran had lost his job at a computer-security company. He said he just recently found a cashier job at Home Depot and hopes to head back to school soon to study computers and radio engineering.
But their problems with the federal investigation, on which the U.S. Attorney’s Office will not comment, aren’t over. Until the statute of limitations runs out in five years, both could be found guilty of criminal contempt for not answering more questions before a grand jury.
“There’s no maximum-sentence guide for that, so we have no idea how long we’d serve for that,” Olejnik said.
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.