Dark Days for Camelot

Minneapolis police said they raided a natural-foods charity in search of drugs. The people they routed say the cops' real fear was their politics.

The evening of July 24, a group of people had just finished watching the ten o'-clock news together in the first-floor apartment of a duplex in south Minneapolis. The man the apartment belonged to, Jeff Borowiak, had been arrested during a protest earlier that day, and the people gathered in front of the TV were riveted to the news footage of that afternoon's clashes downtown between the Minneapolis police and protesters of the International Society for Animal Genetics conference.

Borowiak's apartment, located at 3118 Grand Ave. S., is also the headquarters of Sister's Camelot, a nonprofit that delivers organic food to low-income neighborhoods around the Twin Cities. Many of the people watching the television were affiliated with the organization, and had come to hang out and cook some food together. But on that Monday night, rumors, paranoia, and hints of violence still hung in the air.

At 10:30 six people left the house and crowded into a tiny car parked just outside. Camelot volunteers say that as they pulled away, headed downtown to try to bail out Borowiak and other friends, a blue car pulled across the street, blocking their passage. Two plainclothes officers approached the car with guns drawn and began yelling at people to get out of the car, lie facedown in the middle of the street, and not make a sound. Suddenly, they say, other police officers appeared, stormed through the apartment's open front door brandishing guns, and ordered everyone left inside down on the floor.

"Hippies who haul produce": Sister's Camelot's Jeff Borowiak
Craig Lassig
"Hippies who haul produce": Sister's Camelot's Jeff Borowiak

Although their stories contradict official accounts of the raid, the Camelot volunteers say some of the police were wearing black ski masks, some were in riot gear, and others were wearing black shirts and jackets emblazoned with "DEA." The officers threw people on the ground, hit some with nightsticks, and kicked others, the activists claim.

Tamara Willis, age 29, had dozed off in a chair in the back of the two-bedroom apartment when the raid began. She says she was kicked and might have been hit with a baton. "There was noise and commotion," says Willis. "I looked to my left and there was a cop in riot gear with a riot shield. There were at least eight cops in there. There was a female cop with a ski mask over her head so all you could see were her eyes and the top of her nose."

For more than two hours, she and others say, 13 people were kept, handcuffed and blindfolded, in the house while authorities ransacked closets, bedrooms, and a shed in the backyard, and examined the files on the nonprofit's three computers. One volunteer, 16-year-old Wendy Koon, says the police were telling one another to "get all the ISAG info."

By 1:30 Tuesday morning, 13 people had been arrested, loaded into a paddy wagon and taken to jail; one was taken to the hospital. "I was like, 'What the fuck is going on?'" says Willis.

What was going on, according to the jumbled accounts contained in police reports and court files related to the raid, is that Minneapolis police believed that Sister's Camelot was playing host to "out-of-town" agitators and others who "wanted to shut our city down," according to Police Chief Robert Olson. Several days before the protest, he explained last week to angry city council members, the Minneapolis Police Department had obtained a search warrant authorizing officers to enter the duplex to look for drugs. Police held off on raiding the apartment, however, for three days--until they heard "that there was an individual there with an academic background in chemicals."

Olson's assumptions, say Borowiak and other Camelot associates, couldn't have been more false. A New Hope native, Borowiak graduated from Carleton College in 1990 with a degree in biology. Police did find small quantities of marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms, but the house contained no chemicals. And while some of the group's affiliates participated in the protests, they deny that any of the activities were planned at Sister's Camelot headquarters. The police, they charge, had them under surveillance for weeks before the scientists came to town, and used a pretext to stage the raid.

"This is the nature of the government now," says Borowiak. "[Police] used the war on drugs as an excuse to get the warrant and trash the place because they see us as a threat to their being. This was not about drugs. There is no question that this was directly related to the protests."

Police records bear out these possibilities. When they applied to Hennepin County District Court Judge Roberta Levy for the search warrant on July 21, MPD officers said they believed heavy narcotic trafficking was going on at Borowiak's apartment. A tree house on the property was used as a lookout post, they added, and the group's two school buses were being used to transport marijuana. The warrant also says that MPD Officer Bart Hauge, a ten-year veteran of the force, had visited the property with a "confidential reliable informant," peeped through a window, and seen two six-inch marijuana plants in the house, as well as marijuana plants growing in the backyard. The warrant authorized officers to look for drug paraphernalia, weighing and packing materials, firearms, and "other records, such as computers, laptops and electronic notebooks, of drug sales and/or use."

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