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.

But according to police records, what was actually seized seems far more benign: When police packed up, court documents show, they took with them numerous notebooks, three-ring binders, mailing lists for the organization, calendars, mail addressed to Borowiak, knives, a slingshot, a blowgun, and a police scanner. Borowiak says two of the knives were Leatherman pocket tools, and the other was a Japanese martial arts accessory, not a weapon.

The officers didn't find the pot plants mentioned in the warrant, but they did unearth three "small" bags of marijuana, a bag of psychedelic mushrooms, three marijuana pipes, and a bong. Furthermore, authorities seized three videocassettes, three computers, and, according to the report, some "Fuck ISAG" banners.

(Sister's Camelot volunteers believe federal agents participated in the raid. Borowiak thinks the FBI has had a file on him for five years. Olson and an FBI spokesman last week denied suggestions that federal agencies participated in the raid or preparations for it.)

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

Narcotics investigator Hauge confirms that he participated in the raid, and says he did observe the house prior to the arrest. He maintains that police are satisfied with what they seized, and that the raid was "routine" and justified. Hauge wouldn't answer further questions, however: "This whole thing is just such a mess." (MPD media liaison Cyndi Montgomery did not return repeated phone calls from City Pages regarding this story.)

Charles Samuelson, executive director of the Minneapolis Civil Liberties Union, says his group is monitoring the Sister's Camelot situation carefully, but he declines to speculate about what, if any, action the MCLU might take. "A lot of things" about the raid caught Samuelson's attention: "Specifically, the timing and location of it," he says, "and the statement on [Chief] Olson's part we find particularly damning." Olson has made no secret of the fact that the bust was provoked by police "counterintelligence" conducted regarding the protest.

The raid may have been legal, Samuelson continues, but he and others question the MPD's tactics. "Is this legal under current drug laws?" he asks. "Yes. Does [the MCLU] think this is constitutional? No. The bottom line is that they went with the dealing thing--distribution of narcotics. But three or four bags of marijuana is less than an ounce." Samuelson notes that what happened in Minneapolis fits with a nationwide pattern seen recently in Seattle, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., where political protesters have been the targets of conveniently timed raids in which drug tips or safety-code violations are used as pretexts. "Police talk to each other and swap ideas, just like protesters," he says, noting that warrants are not commonly used to arrest someone for personal drug consumption.

Borowiak himself was arrested around 2:00 p.m. in Loring Park the day of the protests. He says a plainclothes officer approached him and handcuffed him from behind, despite his insistence that he was not protesting and had not strayed from the area where marching was being allowed. While this happened, Borowiak says, another plainclothes officer approached and asked, "Is that Borowiak?" He suspects he had already been singled out. "Someone with the police had infiltrated the house two weeks before and they knew me," Borowiak says. "That was their plan from the get-go."

There's no doubt in Borowiak's mind that police had singled out Sister's Camelot. The group opposes genetically engineered food but played no role in organizing the protests.

Borowiak was charged with unlawful assembly, and held until 4:30 the next morning; the charges against him have since been dropped. Indeed, charges against ten of the eleven adults arrested during the raid were also dismissed. (Two juveniles were also arrested, but their court files are sealed to the general public.) In Hennepin County some have prior arrest records, mostly for alleged infractions related to protests. None has a drug-related arrest.

In fact, the only person arrested during the Camelot raid who will end up facing charges is Borowiak's roommate, 24-year-old Robert Czernik. Last week Czernik appeared in drug court with an attorney in hopes of having the (felony) charges against him dropped, too. But the prosecutor didn't show up for the hearing, so Czernik will return to court on August 14. Witnesses say police called Czernik by his nickname, "Tumbleweed," beat him, and kicked him in the head repeatedly until he bled. Czernik appeared in court last week with a black eye and a swollen face.

Olson later said Czernik fell and cut his eye while "trying to escape." Because he still faces charges, Czernik declined to be interviewed for this story, except to say that he did not try to flee: "The police are blatantly lying."

Willis, who has bruises on the back of her right leg from the night of the raid, says she believes the police were particularly rough on Czernik. Like others present, she was blindfolded and admits she saw nothing. "I heard what sounded like him getting kicked or something," she says. "But I wasn't gong to say anything because I had already been hit."

Records say Czernik has been arrested six times since 1998, each time on trespass, disorderly conduct, or property damage charges. His attorney believes that the arrests are all protest-related; court records show that all the charges were dismissed except for a July 1999 trespass charge, to which Czernik pleaded guilty.

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