17-year-old Keith Smith – Before His Arrest
(Photo: Paul Demko / Minnesota Independent)

The 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota produced over 800 arrests and numerous complaints of police misconduct: pre-emptive raids, mass arrests, targeting of journalists and police brutality – including violence directed against arrestees held in the Ramsey County jail. It was a smaller, but much more violent version of the 2004 RNC held in New York City. By the end of the convention, eight protest organizers had been charged with “conspiracy to commit riot in the second degree in furtherance of terrorism” – the first to be charged under Minnesota’s version of the Patriot Act. {1} Elected officials in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are pleased the convention is over but for those who protested, and those who reported on the protests, lingering questions remain about police conduct during the RNC. This “Twin Study” is an attempt to put the police behavior in a meaningful context – and to underscore the need to examine that behavior publicly.

Keith Smith – After His Arrest
(Photo: Minnesota Independent)


Recent political conventions have been declared “National Special Security Events” by the Department of Homeland Security. {2} An NSSE designation generally means that security becomes the responsibility of an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) – a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security components (Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Secret Service) and state and local law enforcement. JTTFs typically conduct surveillance and interrogations of individuals the FBI suspects of being linked to “domestic terrorism” – which includes protest activity.

Replicating what they had done in 2004, the FBI and its JTTFs increased activity a year prior to the 2008 RNC, surveiling and interviewing peace activists – and recruiting paid informants who were asked to infiltrate anti-war organizations. {3}


In 2002, the Justice Department removed regulations put in place after the Church Commission hearings in the 1970s, which exposed evidence of politically motivated spying and obstruction of first amendments rights by the FBI’s COINTELPRO division. {4} Civil rights advocates worry that unregulated JTTF actions may constitute violations of the First Amendment, pointing to a number of questionable police practices that have emerged in the years since the 9-11 attacks.


In Philadelphia in 2000, undercover state troopers posed as activists during the Republican National Convention protests, infiltrating street demonstrations and engaging in illegal activity – acting as provocateurs. {5}

In 2003 a Miami Herald reporter, covering the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protests, reported that “a judge presiding over the cases of free trade protesters said in court that he saw ‘no less than 20 felonies committed by police officers’ during the November demonstrations.”{6}

The “Miami Model” described by the judge – the police response to the FTAA protests – established a standard procedure for police covering the Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004: surveillance, provocateurs, pre-emptive mass arrests, and extended detentions. And despite the fact that NYPD misconduct prompted several lawsuits – and several legal victories for protesters – the NYPD consulted with authorities planning security for the 2008 RNC in St. Paul. {7}


St. Paul received a $50 million “security grant” from the Department of Justice for the 2008 RNC. While there were restrictions on how the cash could be spent, it did allow for equipment procurement and what former Minneapolis police chief Tony Bouza called an “orgy of overtime”. {8} 3000 police officers from other jurisdictions were brought in to the Twin Cities.

In addition, St. Paul signed a deal whereby the city’s first $10 million in payouts to litigants for civil rights violations would be paid by the Republican Party Host Committee. {*} This allowed the 600 local police and 3000 per diem police to engage in aggressive tactics while working the RNC, creating a crowd control force that functioned more like Blackwater mercenaries than a legitimate law enforcement entity.


Importing a tactic from the Iraq War, the St. Paul police offered local corporate media a deal: journalists who signed a liability waiver were allowed to “ride along”, i.e. be embedded, with the police – after agreeing to not run any stories about police tactics until after the convention. The controversial “ride along” and “embargo” agreement allowed Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reporter Tim Nelson access to the front lines of the conflict between police and protesters. Unlike many of his colleagues, Nelson was not tear gassed, arrested or beaten. Shortly after this came to light, MPR columnist Bob Collins wrote several pieces about police and their treatment of journalists. Collins argued that it was difficult for police to discern “real” journalists from the “posers” or “kinkos journalists” {9} – and this may have led to journalists being swept up in mass arrests. Collins’ animosity towards citizen journalists, and sympathy for law enforcement, served the police department very well – one reader left a comment on a Collins’ piece stating that, “If I were a bonafide journalist, it would piss me off beyond a bushel of kidney stones that protesters would pose as one of us.”.{10}

Trauma nurse Michael Cavlan worked as a street medic during the 2008 RNC and witnessed a number of confrontations between police and journalists. When asked about (St. Paul) Police Chief John Harrington’s comment that it was very difficult to determine who was a journalist and who was a protester, Cavlan told NLN that, “Chief Harrington is a liar”. Cavlan went on to say that he witnessed a police undercover, with press credentials, “masquerading as a journalist” in order to videotape protesters. {11}

When her staff members were arrested on “suspicion of rioting” on September 1, Democracy Now anchor Amy Goodman approached police officers to verify her crew’s credentials. She was arrested and a Secret Service agent confiscated her convention credentials. {12} This act outraged other journalists – and their readers. On September 2 – day two of the convention – a number of media representatives delivered a petition with 50,000 signatures to St. Paul’s Mayor Coleman demanding that he drop all charges against any journalists arrested during the RNC, many of whom were initially charged with felonies including the vague “suspicion of rioting”. {13}

Neither the 2003 FTAA protests or the 2004 RNC involved the targeting of independent journalists or the bargaining with corporate media to the extent seen in St. Paul – this represents a significant expansion of the Miami Model. Protesters did not fare much better. Police actions against activists began three days before the convention started.

Sign the petition calling for an investigation…

Sheriff Bob Fletcher Collects Urine For Evidence
(Photo: Brandi Jade Thomas / Pioneer Press)


The Glass Bead Collective is a group of filmmakers from New York City who recently released a video documenting the misconduct of an NYPD officer at a Critical Mass bike ride in New York. Early on the morning of August 26, three members of the filmmakers collective were walking in Northeast Minneapolis when they were stopped by police. Officers photographed the three videographers and questioned them individually about their travel plans and asked what they intended to report on. Police searched their personal belongings and confiscated their video and computer equipment, cell phones, notebooks, clothing and money. Police did not charge the three with a crime or issue a receipt for the items seized.

On the evening of August 29th, police raided a St. Paul convergence center run by the “RNC Welcoming Committee”, a group of protest organizers who were providing logistical support for activists. Police removed computers and other evidence from the building while they searched, identified, photographed and interviewed occupants, none of whom were arrested.

On the morning of Saturday, August 30th, the Minneapolis Police Department, led by Sheriff Bob Fletcher of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, raided a home occupied by Food Not Bombs activists. Fletcher, armed with a very broad and vague search warrant, found three buckets of alleged urine. Feces and urine had been listed on the search warrant and these items were confiscated. Later it was revealed that Fletcher had secured only one bucket of urine – the other two buckets contained what the police described as a “gray liquid”. The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) issued a press release stating that the bucket of urine was retrieved from an illegal apartment, unconnected with the FNB house. The apartment lacked a functioning toilet and the bucket was serving as a urinal. {14} Additional raids were conducted across Minneapolis. Six activists arrested in the various raids were held on “probable cause.”

The I-Witness collective is a team of videographers from New York City who document police misconduct. On the morning of Saturday, August 30th, the house they were staying in was surrounded by police from St. Paul, a Wisconsin sheriff and the FBI. The I-Witness team was searched and had their equipment seized but they were not charged with a crime. Two days later police appeared at the office the team was using – with a battering ram and some incorrect information about “hostages” being held in the office. The NLG intervened and the police left the scene apparently assured that no hostages were being held by the journalists.


The extensive use of chemical and other non-lethal weapons by police also represents an enhancement of the Miami Model. Video clips and first hand accounts of police behavior chronicle widespread use of these weapons – and widespread brutality.

Before the convention, Chief Harrington told the Star Tribune that $1.9 million of the DoJ security grant was being spent on chemical irritants – and other $1 million would be spent on gas masks. {15} Numerous videos of riot police gassing protesters would seem to indicate that once the weapons had been purchased, they had to be used – and used indiscriminately.


September 1:

  • A peace march with 10,000 participants was uneventful in terms of police activity.
  • Breakaway marches were met with tear gas, pepper spray — and mass arrests.
  • Police and National Guard mass arrested a large group of people in a park (many expressing disbelief) on Shepard Rd, adjacent to an SEIU Labor Day event on Harriet Island.
  • Amy Goodman and her staff were arrested covering a march.
  • 17-year-old Keith Smith, a Buddhist, attempted to leave a protest area when things got tense. He later recounted that he had been surrounded, arrested and beaten severely by five police officers who told him he was to be charged with resisting arrest. Bloodied and battered, he was released in the middle of the night – but not to his parents as the law required. No charges were filed against him. {16}
  • There were close to 300 arrests for the day.
  • September 2:

  • The Poor Peoples March journeyed first to the Ramsey County Jail as an expression of solidarity with arrestees, then to the Xcel Center.
  • Free Press delivered a petition demanding the release of all journalists to Mayor Coleman.
  • Rage Against The Machine appeared at the rally outside the X and was ready to perform when the police told the protesters that their permit had expired. (Zack de la Rocha and Tom Morello performed an acapella version of Bulls On Parade through a bullhorn).
  • A short time later police used tear gas and pepper spray on the crowd.
  • 19-year-old Elliot Hughes was riding his bike in the area when police arrested him. Hugues later said that after he began chanting for food in the Ramsey County Jail he was taken to a “restraint chair”, had a bag placed over his head and was severely beaten. {17}
  • A standoff between police and protesters occurred at Mickey’s Diner. Police used chemical weapons on protesters in what became known locally as “the Battle of Mickey’s Diner”.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union issued a call for an investigation into the pre-emptive raids and mass arrests.
  • September 3:

  • NYC activist Laurie Arbeiter and two colleagues were pulled over for a “traffic stop” by police with their guns drawn. The three were separated and searched. When they asked why they had been stopped they were told that they were on a federal “stop-and-search” list. {18} No charges were filed and the activists were released.

  • Two Texas men were arrested in St. Paul for allegedly possessing molotov cocktails.
  • Eight members of the RNC Welcoming Committee were charged under the Minnesota version of the Patriot Act.
  • Rage Against The Machine peformed a concert at the Target Center. After the show, freelance journalist Tony Webster had his camera lens smashed by overzealous police, was detained and eventually released after being told he was “lucky” he wasn’t being arrested. “No officer would even bother to look at my media credentials…Why was I told later that I should just show credentials in court and it would “probably get dismissed?” said Webster. {19} 108 people were arrested after the concert.
  • September 4:

  • At an RNC Welcoming Committee press conference held to refute the “terrorism” charges, Elliot Hughes stated that Ramsey County sheriffs tortured him.
  • Police gassed and arrested hundreds of protesters who had attempted to reach the Xcel center. Protesters at an Anti-war Committee rally prepared to march at 5 pm but police revoked the permit and declared the assembly unlawful. Protesters attempted to reach the “X” via various bridges but police used snowplows and dump trucks to block access. A wave of arrests on the John Ireland bridge was followed by arrests of more protesters, including Democracy Now producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous, on the Marion Street bridge. A total of 396 were arrested. Protesters on the John Ireland bridge report being in the fetal position when police pepper-sprayed them in the eyes at point-blank range. {20}

    Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner – whose website indicates her desire to run for Governor next year {21} – charged 8 RNCWC organizers under the Minnesota version of the Patriot Act. The specific charge, “conspiracy to commit riot in the second degree in furtherance of terrorism”, followed the pre-emptive raid on the RNC Welcoming Committee convergence center. Evidence seized includes political literature and personal computers. The RNC Welcoming Committee did not plan a specific action but provided logistical support to groups who were planning to protest at the RNC.

    In an interview on Democracy Now, National Lawyers Guild attorney Bruce Nestor said that, “By equating plans or stated plans to blockade traffic and to try to disrupt the convention with acts of terrorism, the conspiracy nature of the charge, where you punish people for what they say or advocate, but not for what they do, really creates a possibility that anybody organizing a large-scale demonstration, at which civil disobedience may be a part of it or where other individuals may then engage in some type of property damage, creates the potential that all those organizers can be charged with these conspiracy charges and face significant penalties.” {22}

    In addition to supersizing charges for protest organizers, Ramsey County apparently supermaxed the conditions of confinement. Eileen Clancy of I-Witness Video reported that, “the treatment of arrestees in the jails has been shockingly bad, even grisly. Medical care has been withheld from many arrestees. In one instance a hemophiliac was offered gauze as treatment for a wound. Elliot Hughes, a 19-year old arrested while bicycling, was forced to wear a bag over his head while being gagged and beaten. The punishment of arrestees did not end at the jailhouse door. In almost every instance, the Sheriff’s Department did not return any personal belongings to arrestees upon their release. […] Some were dropped off as far as five miles away from the jail without their house keys, car keys, cell phones, identification, or money. In some instances this meant that they were not able to access critically needed medication,” said Clancy. {23}

    According to the Coldsnap Legal Collective, “[ A woman arrestee ] reported seeing a Sheriff knock another woman to the ground and drag her out of the room by her hair.”


    Commenting on the “probable cause” prefix police applied to riot charges attorney Bruce Nestor noted that, “[ Probable cause ] means that the police officer is allowed to charge someone based upon their description of events. It doesn’t go through a prosecutor or a judge. In Minnesota, that allowed anybody arrested on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday to be held until noon on Wednesday.” {24}

    The tactic of false arresting protesters to clear the streets of dissent – the model that prompted so many lawsuits in New York – now has a legal-sounding prefix: “probable cause”. The model also has an underwriter: “St. Paul actually negotiated a special insurance provision with the Republican Host Committee so that the first $10 million in liability for lawsuits arising from the convention will be covered by the Host Committee. The city is very proud of this negotiation…it basically means we can commit wrongdoing, and we won’t have to pay for it,” said Nestor. {25}

    Jason, an MDS organizer from Chicago, told NLN that “police round[ed] up anyone they could to silence dissent by holding people on ridiculous charges until the end, or near the end of the convention. Police infiltrators picked a fight so they would have an excuse to do so. I’ve seen the raw video footage, and personally saw police plants at every march — including all publicly peaceful ones.” {26}


    On September 5, 2008, Amnesty International called for an investigation of all allegations of ill-treatment and other abuses, with a review of police tactics. The human rights group also urged that an inquiry be carried out promptly, noting that “police are reported to have fired rubber bullets and used batons, pepper spray, tear gas canisters and concussion grenades on peaceful demonstrators and journalists. Amnesty International has also received unconfirmed reports that some of those arrested during the demonstrations may have been ill-treated while held at Ramsey county jail.” {26}

    While the mayors of the Twin Cities made public statements in support of the police, Gary Schiff and Cam Gordon, members of the Minneapolis City Council, called for an independent investigation. This call died in committee. The same council members who approved the police plan in a meeting held on June 6, 2008, voted down the call for an investigation. {27}

    On September 15, Susan Gaertner announced on her campaign website that the Ramsey County Attorney’s office will not be prosecuting felony charges against Amy Goodman and her staff, however, “the Police Department will submit the cases to the St. Paul City Attorney’s Office for consideration of possible non-felony charges.” {28}

    On September 19, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s office issued a statement announcing that the City Attorney’s Office won’t prosecute journalists who were arrested at the RNC for “presence at an unlawful assembly,” a misdemeanor charge. {30}

    And so the cleanup from the convention begins. If the New York City model holds, the vast majority of charges against nonviolent protesters arrested in the Twin Cities will be quickly dropped. Lawsuits are probable but the Republican Host Committee insurance plan should indemnify St. Paul. With no day in court forthcoming, protesters will not be allowed to face their arresting officers – 3000 of whom were essentially mercenaries. Litigants will receive payouts for their trouble – and their injuries. And in 2012 it will begin again.


    Sign the petition calling for an investigation…


    To Contact Elected Officials/Request An Investigation
    Governor Tim Pawlenty

    Mayor Chris Coleman (St. Paul)

    Mayor R.T. Rybak (Minneapolis)

    Susan Gaertner (Ramsey County Attorney)


    Documentary Videos
    Glass Bead on Police Seizure Of Their Equipment (Aug 26)
    National Lawyers Guild on Pre-emptive Raids (Aug 30-31)
    Amy Goodman Arrested (Sept 1)
    Rage Against The Machine Acapella (Sept 2)
    Standoff At Mickey’s Diner (Sept 2)
    Day Three Protests (Sept 3)
    RNC Welcoming Committe Press Conference (Sept 4)
    Detainee Alleges Torture In Ramsey County Jail (Sept 4)
    Visit To Mayor Coleman (Sept 4)
    Coldsnap Legal Collective Press Conference w/ Brutality Victims (Sept 9)

    NLN Interview With Street Medic Michael Cavlan

    Part 1

    Part 2


    {1} Demko, Paul. “Attorneys for Minnesota Nine call criminal charges ‘outrageous’.” Minnesota Independent 05 September 2008. 22 September 2008 <http://minnesotaindependent.com/7568/attorneys-for-minnesota-nine-call-criminal-charges-outrageous>

    {2} “National Security Special Event.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 26 March 2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 23 September 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Special_Security_Event>

    {3} Snyders, Matt. “Moles Wanted: In preparation for the Republican National Convention, the FBI is soliciting informants to keep tabs on local protest groups.” City Pages 21 May 2008. 22 September 2008<http://www.citypages.com/2008-05-21/news/moles-wanted/>

    {4} “Joint Terrorism Task Force.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 24 August 2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 23 September 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Terrorism_Task_Force>

    {5} “Pennsylvania State Troopers Pose As RNC Activists: Press Release PR-111600.” R2K Legal Collective Home Page 16 November 2000. 19 September 2008 <http://r2klegal.org/r2klegal/press/pr-111600.html>

    {6} Driscoll, Amy. “Judge: I Saw Police Commit Felonies.” Miami Herald 20 December 2003: Rpt. Common Dreams Home Page 2003. 24 September 2008 <http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1220-03.htm>

    {7} Hennelly, Bob. “NYPD Consults on Nat’l Conventions.” WNYC 28 May 2008. 21 September 2008 <http://www.wnyc.org/news/articles/99966#<

    {8} Furst, Randy and Lonetree, Anthony. “Massive show of force fits the trend.” Star Tribune 05 September 2008. 18 September 2008 <http://www.startribune.com/politics/national/conventions/27940864.html>

    {9} Collins, Bob. “Embedded reporters at RNC.” Minnesota Public Radio 05 September 2008. 22 September 2008 <http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/news_cut/archive/2008/09/embedded_reporters.shtml>

    {10} Collins, Bob. “Pick the journalist.” Minnesota Public Radio 03 September 2008. 22 September 2008 <http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/news_cut/archive/2008/09/_quick_in_the_picture.shtml>

    {11} Cavlan, Michael. Telephone interview. 11 September 2008. <www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cwe-Nb9ZqMQ>

    {12} Goodman, Amy. “Amy Goodman & Two Democracy Now! Producers Arrested at RNC Protest.” Democracy Now! 02 September 2008. 02 September 2008 <http://www.democracynow.org/2008/9/2/amy_goodman_two_democracy_now_producers>

    {13} Giles, Kevin. “Petitions call for dropping charges against journalists.” Star Tribune 05 September 2008. 22 September 2008 <http://www.startribune.com/politics/state/27942484.html>

    {14} “National Lawyers Guild Condemns Fabrications of Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and Preventative Detention Arrests.” National Lawyers Guild Home Page 30 August 2008. 19 September 2008<http://www.nlg.org/news/index.php?entry=entry080830-143144>

    {15} Havens, Chris. “St. Paul police share plans for $50 million in RNC spending.” Star Tribune 05 August 2008. 19 September 2008 <http://www.startribune.com/local/stpaul/26295559.html>

    {16} Schmelzer, Paul. “Youth in iconic RNC protest photo was later beaten by police, according to his mother.” Minnesota Independent 02 September 2, 2008. 22 September 2008 <http://minnesotaindependent.com/6952/youth-in-iconic-rnc-protest-photo-beaten-by-police-according-to-his-mother>

    {17} Steller, Chris. “RNC protesters show and tell of injuries from cops.” Minnesota Independent 09 September 2008. 23 September 2008 <http://minnesotaindependent.com/8059/mnindy-video-rnc-protesters-show-and-tell-of-injuries-from-cops>

    {18} Schmelzer, Paul. “Detained at gunpoint, peace activists on “federal watch list” are released without charge.” Minnesota Independent 03 September 2008. 23 September 2008 <http://www.minnesotaindependent.com/7266/detained-at-gunpoint-peace-activists-on-federal-watch-list-are-released-without-charge>

    {19} Webster, Tony. “Arrested in Downtown Minneapolis, Chief Dolan Targets Journalists”. Online posting. 04 September 2008. Minneapolis Issues Forum. 20 September 2008 <http://forums.e-democracy.org/groups/mpls/messages/post/1cPwnMtgAOciPdyo7BzhUS>

    {20} Robson, Britt. “Scenes from a protest: On RNC’s last night, a march to nowhere.” Minnesota Independent 05 September 2008. 22 September 2008 <http://minnesotaindependent.com/7747/scenes-from-a-protest-on-rncs-last-night-a-march-to-nowhere>

    {21} Gaertner, Susan. “In 2010 I hope to be elected Governor of Minnesota.” Susan Gaertner Campaign Home Page 15 September 2008. 22 September 2008 <http://www.susangaertner.com/>

    {22} Goodman, Amy. “Eight Members of RNC Activist Group Lodged with Terrorism Charges.” Democracy Now! 04 September 2008. 18 September 2008 <http://www.democracynow.org/2008/9/4/eight_members_of_rnc_activist_group>

    {23} Clancy, Eileen. “Violence and cruel treatment directed at protesters by police; Journalists targeted for arrest, harassment, intimidation and surveillance.” I-Witness Video Home Page 07 September 2008. 15 September 2008 <http://iwitnessvideo.info/blog/110.html>

    {24} Goodman, Amy. “Eight Members of RNC Activist Group Lodged with Terrorism Charges.” Democracy Now! 04 September 2008. 18 September 2008 <http://www.democracynow.org/2008/9/4/eight_members_of_rnc_activist_group>

    {25} ibid.

    {26} Jason. “No Subject” E-mail to Thomas Good. September 6, 2008

    {27} “Use of Force Against RNC Protesters ‘Disproportionate,’ Charges Amnesty International.” Amnesty International Home Page 05 September 2008. 22 September 2008 <http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?id=ENGUSA20080905001&lang=e>

    {28} Steller, Chris. “City Council DOESN’T call for investigation of Minneapolis police over RNC.” Minnesota Independent 18 September 2008. 23 September 2008 <http://minnesotaindependent.com/9244/city-council-doesnt-call-for-investigation-of-minneapolis-police-over-rnc>

    {29} Gaertner, Susan. “No Felony Charges Against TV Producers.” Susan Gaertner Campaign Home Page 15 September 2008. 22 September 2008 <http://www.susangaertner.com/>

    {30} Pratt, Anna. “St. Paul won’t prosecute journalists facing unlawful assembly charges from the RNC.” Minnesota Independent 19 September 2008. 22 September 2008 <http://minnesotaindependent.com/9489/st-paul-wont-prosecute-journalists-facing-unlawful-assembly-charges-from-the-rnc>

    {*} [ Editor’s Note: we received a request for more information about the $10 million liability insurance. The Minnesota Independent, an independent news source that offered first rate coverage of the RNC, ran this piece on July 17, 2008:
    Demko, Paul. “Convention cops: St. Paul struggling to recruit enough officers for RNC security.” Minnesota Independent 17 July 2008. 26 September 2008 <http://minnesotaindependent.com/4424/convention-cops-st-paul-struggling-to-recruit-enough-officers-for-rnc-security> ]