Saturday, January 30, 2010

Charges withdrawn against 2 who Twittered police location

The Allegheny County District Attorney has dropped all charges against two New York men accused of posting locations of police officers on Twitter during the G-20 summit.

Elliot M. Madison and Michael T. Wallschlaeger, both of New York City, had charges pending before a district judge. Before that case came up, their attorney brought a motion to unseal police affidavits that backed a search warrant in their case. Today before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman the district attorney's office withdrew all charges against the men.

"The charges were ill-thought, ill-conceived and they never should have been filed to begin with," said Claudia Davidson, who represents both men.

Mike Manko, spokesman for the district attorney, said the office decided to withdraw charges after consulting with other law enforcement agencies.

He said, "After an extensive review of the facts and circumstances underlying those two arrests that took place on Sept. 24, 2009, there appears to be sufficient evidence to suggest that certain acts that occurred during the G-20 summit were not isolated incidents confined to Allegheny County but instead may have been related to more expansive activities that went beyond the Pittsburgh G-20 in both time and substance. That being the case, a determination was made that until further investigative activities by law enforcement agencies can be completed, it would be more prudent to have the current charges withdrawn rather than prosecuted at this time."

According to a criminal complaint filed against Mr. Madison, Pennsylvania State Police served a search warrant on Room 238 of the Carefree Inn on Kisow Drive in Kennedy early in the afternoon of Sept. 24. It was the first day of the G-20 summit and also the day set for unsanctioned protests in Lawrenceville.

In the motel room, police discovered Mr. Madison and Michael Wallschlaeger sitting in front of personal computers listening to both police and EMS scanners.

They were using headphones, microphones and maps to alert protesters about the movements of law enforcement, the complaint said. They sent the information out via cell phones and Twitter.

The pair also face charges for their G-20 activities in federal court in New York after the FBI searched their home in Queens for 16 hours.

The New York Post reported that agents seized "computers, political writings, anarchist literature, gas masks and a pound of liquid mercury."

Their defense attorney on the federal case, Martin R. Stolar, obtained a temporary restraining order against the FBI in the Eastern District of New York.

Ms. Davidson, the Pittsburgh-based attorney, said her "read" on Mr. Manko's statement is that "there was another jurisdiction that didn't want the DA's office to show their hand here."

"That doesn't mean an investigation elsewhere is going to turn up any crimes. We maintain their actions were always lawful. Use of electronic equipment to exercise their first amendment rights by anyone is not unlawful," she said.

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