FBI, environmentalist settle wrongful jail suit

Monterey County Herald (California) November 16, 2005

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Monterey County Herald (California)

November 16, 2005 Wednesday

The FBI has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by an environmentalist mistakenly jailed for a string of arson attacks targeting more than 100 vehicles, according to lawyers in the case.

Josh Connole had filed the civil rights lawsuit after his 2003 arrest three weeks after more than 125 vehicles at SUV dealerships in the San Gabriel Valley were destroyed or damaged.

Connole, 27, said Monday that he was pleased with the settlement and hoped it would send a message to law enforcement that "you can't throw people's civil rights out the window in the name of fighting terrorism."

Connole, who lives in Oregon, spent four days in jail. William Cottrell, a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, was later convicted in the case and sentenced to more than 8 years in prison.

During the crime spree, spray paint was used to deface the vehicles with slogans such as "Fat, Lazy Americans" and "ELF," for Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental group.

Connole's attorneys, William Paparian and John Burton, said the $100,000 payment followed negotiations mediated by a U.S. magistrate judge in Los Angeles.

The case was handled by an assistant U.S. attorney based in Phoenix after the local office recused themselves.

Sandy Raynor with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona said FBI agents acknowledge they arrested the wrong person.

''It was a good-faith mistake on the part of the FBI agents who made the arrest,'' Raynor said. ''The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office worked very closely with all the parties, and it was agreed that a settlement was appropriate in the case.''

In a deposition, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Beverly Reid O'Connell said she told an FBI senior supervisor at the time that there was no probable cause to arrest Connole.

West Covina police, who participated in Connole's arrest, have apologized. The city gave Connole $20,000 to settle a separate claim.