After graduating from the Evergreen State College in 2008, Philip Chinn talks freely about his résumé of odd jobs. With an amused laugh, Chinn details working on a geoduck farm and selling windows. “I’ve been trying to piece together whatever work I can,” Chinn said. “It’s been a rough economy.”
But when asked what his aspirations are, the 22 year-old pauses and discusses his plans to attend law school in hopes of becoming a civil rights attorney.
Chinn, who is originally from Kent, Wash., describes himself as a “nice guy” with “anti-authoritarian” political views. He says he became interested in political activism after reading “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zin in a high school history class. Chinn said his dream job, however, was inspired not by a book, but from an earlier arrest.
In May 2007, Chinn was pulled over on suspicion of drunken driving while traveling to an anti-war protest at the Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen. Chinn said he planned to attend the demonstration with a student demonstration group, Students for a Democratic Society, to protest the use of civilian ports for military purposes. According to Chinn, material intended for Iraq was being moved through the Port of Grays Harbor.
“When I got pulled over I thought… I might just get a ticket for, like, speeding,” Chinn said. “When he asked me to step out of the car, that’s when I knew something was really wrong.” As outlined in court documents, Chinn was pulled over for “erratic braking” and for driving 50 mph in a 55 mph speed zone.
But despite passing a breathalyzer and additional sobriety tests, the trooper claimed Chinn was “under the influence of marijuana” and booked him into Grays Harbor County Jail.
As Chinn was being arrested, Chinn said he noticed a picture of his car on the dashboard of the police car.
When Chinn was released, the protest had already ended. Tests later showed Chinn had no alcohol or drugs in his system.
According to a press release issued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the county prosecutor still refused to dismiss the charge against Chinn until the defense discovered an “attempt-to-locate” dispatch tape issued by Aberdeen police that was broadcasted to look for Chinn’s car.
Chinn said that court documents also indicated his car allegedly contained “three known anarchists” and that two of the three people in his car were “leaders of violent elements.”
State Patrol spokesman, Bob Calkins, says the actions the trooper took were based on observation.
“Although there was an attempt to locate by Aberdeen police, the actions the trooper took were based on what he saw,” Calkins said, also noting that going slower than the speed limit “can be indications of impaired driving.”
In addition to the dispatch tape, court documents revealed police took pictures of protesters’ cars, including Chinn’s, at an earlier location in Olympia. An attempt to contact Aberdeen police was not returned.
Chinn sued last year and will receive $169,000 as part of a settlement with the State Patrol, the city of Aberdeen and Grays Harbor County over allegations of false arrest and violations of his right to free speech. The agencies have also agreed to pay his attorney fees, which, according to a Seattle Times article, ACLU estimates at more than $375,000.
The suit, however, is more than just allegations of false arrest.
A Seattle Times article published in May interviewed ACLU spokesman Doug Honig. According to the article, Honig says ACLU took Chinn’s case because it believes the case and other allegations suggest local law enforcement spies on dissidents at the behest of the military.
A telephone message left for Larry Hildes, one of Chinn’s attorneys, was not returned. Chinn’s other legal representatives, the ACLU and Nathan Alexander of Dorsey & Whitney, declined to comment for this article, citing pending litigation.
In January 2008, Hildes filed a lawsuit alleging John Towery, a civilian employee of Force Protection Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, infiltrated an anti-war group in Olympia associated with Chinn. Towery was revealed as a “professional informant” through a public-disclosure request. According to the Seattle Times article, Hildes claims the military is “skirting the Reconstruction-era Posse Comitatus Act,” a law that prohibits federal troops from performing law-enforcement functions.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord says the military did not provide any intelligence to law enforcement in the Chinn case, according to the article.
With State Patrol, Calkins says civil disobedience is what troopers are after, not protesters. “We don’t spy, monitor or bother peaceful protesters,” Calkins said. “This happened in the context of a political protest and we saw that a jury with 20-20 hindsight might think otherwise.”
Currently, Chinn is studying for the Law School Administration Test, an entrance exam for law schools, and plans to enroll next year. “I want to help people who are getting screwed over,” Chinn said resolutely.