Lawyers for Burners appeared at the November 20, 2008 arraignment calendar in federal court in Reno, Nevada. In broad brush, the BLM dismissed all of the drug offenses for everyone who appeared in court in Reno. Each was offered the plea of guilty to littering on federal land. The fines were reduced from $525 to $75. Unfortunately, most of the 190 Participants who received citations could not afford the time or transportation to Reno. They were forced by their circumstances to plead guilty to drug possession or closure order violation etc. and paid a fine (typically $525) by mail. Approximately 60 Participants contacted Lawyers for Burners for help with law enforcement encounters in 2008.
But after some self congratulations about the favorable results for Participants, we began to wonder who really prevailed in court on November 20th. For its part, the BLM capitulated completely. The BLM basically said that it was not prosecuting any of the drug citations it handed out in 2008. But then why did the BLM spend so much time and effort on drug enforcement at the Event in 2008?
Why did the BLM physically arrest a bunch of people for drugs in 2008? In 2007, the BLM arrested only two people on drug related charges. This year, there were about 10 Participants who were taken into custody and transported to Pershing County jail in Lovelock. Several of these arrests were for “trafficking.” But the Participants’ accounts are different. I heard from two separate defendants who described a pair of women in costume who approached and asked to trade “green bud for acid.” In both cases, the Participant showed the undercover officers drugs, was arrested and taken off the Playa. We do not know the results of the Pershing County arrests and prosecutions. We referred these participants directly to private defense attorneys.
Another disturbing development is the shackling of Participants for hours in the BLM’s law enforcement trailer. Four Participants wrote of being chained to a restraining chair used to draw blood samples. When we asked about this practice, BLM Special Agent XXXXXXXX said that it was for the “personal safety” of the BLM officers using the trailer. Agent XXXXXXXX said that the BLM has no place to hold people, so it handcuffs them to one of two chairs designed to take blood samples. Two Participants said they were restrained in these chairs for 8 hours.
Although the number of citations was down in 2008, the aggressive drug enforcement activities continue. Lawyers for Burners continues to collect firsthand accounts of from Participants who describe aggressive, indiscriminate harassment and intimidation by the BLM at our Event. Civil rights which are respected by law enforcement in cities like Oakland or San Francisco are ignored in Black Rock City.
The wholesale plea bargaining of drug citations into littering convictions portray hypocrisy and corruption by the BLM and their law enforcement at our Event. The BLM spent a great deal of time on drug interdiction at Burning Man, a “target rich environment” (its words) for such enforcement activities. But when Participants showed up for their day in court, the BLM charged them with littering.
I want to thank and recognize fellow attorneys Erik Newton, Jerry Snyder, Eric Pulver and Marty Weiner for their work, pro bono, on November 20, 2009. Thanks and praise to Adisa McKenzie from TripKnight LLC for his help and support. I also want to thank and recognize attorneys Lee Rowland from the Nevada ACLU and Ramon Acosta from the US Federal Defender in Reno, NV