Two national civil rights organizations filed a citizen complaint against the city of San Francisco Wednesday, alleging that San Francisco police could be violating city law in their work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The complaint, filed with the city’s Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) today, stems from an incident in June 2014 in which a San Francisco Police Department inspector participating in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), attempted to gather First Amendment activity information from software engineer Sarmad Gilani.
That attempt was in violation of a 2012 San Francisco law known as the “Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance” as well as a 2011 SFPD bureau order clarifying that the SFPD working with the JTTF must comply with department policies at all times, according to the complaint.
The complaint, filed by attorneys with the Council on Islamic-American Relations and the Advancing Justice Asian Law Caucus, alleges that San Francisco police Inspector Gavin McEachern infringed on Gilani’s constitutional rights. Gilani, a Muslim of Pakistani descent who works as a software engineer at Google and is a self-described blogger, had previously filed a Freedom of Information Act request concerning recent travel issues.
On June 4, 2014, Gilani was approached at his office by a San Francisco police inspector and an unidentified FBI employee with the JTTF. The pair asked Gilani questions pertaining to his First Amendment rights and Gilani repeatedly declined to answer and repeatedly referred them to his attorney, according to the complaint.
McEachern then began asking Gilani questions about his past travels, including his trips to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, according to the complaint.
McEachern also asked Gilani about his thoughts on the then recent release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who is believed to have been held captive by a Taliban-led group in Afghanistan from June 2009 to May 2014. Bergdahl was allegedly released in exchange for five Afghan detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, operated by the U.S. as a military prison. Bergdahl was charged Wednesday with desertion, the Pentagon announced.
The attorneys with the civil rights groups urged the OCC to fully investigate the allegations against McEarchern and the SFPD, which include unwarranted action and neglect of duty. The complaint filed with the OCC states that the “FBI policy may permit this sort of over-broad, biased, general intelligence gathering aimed squarely at Muslims and people of certain national origins, but SFPD policy strictly prohibits it.”