This case concerns the discovery of an illegal tracking device on a car owned by Judy Clavir and Stew Albert, who were in New York City visiting Center attorneys Bill Kunstler and Margaret Ratner. A small electronic device called a beeper, which emits periodic signals that can be picked up on a radio frequency, was discovered under the car’s rear bumper. The beeping device, it was later learned, was number 107 of an apparently large number of such devices used by police and the F.B.l. As they were leaving the city, Clavir and Albert noticed a three-car tail following them. They decided not to leave and joined Ratner and Kunstler for dinner at a local restaurant. Two young women entered the restaurant, took a flash picture of them and left. There was also evidence of a live tap on the telephone where they were staying.
On the basis of these facts and other instances of surveillance on Clavir and Albert, a federal civil rights action was filed in March 1976.
The F.B.l. answered the complaint in June, admitting various kind of surveillance against Kunstler, Clavir and Albert, including mail cover, bumper beepers, physical surveillance and wiretapping. About two months later , as a result of a grand jury investigation into illegal activities by the F.B.l., an amended answer was filed admitting to a series of what the F.B. l. called “black bag job” (burglaries) at the house of Clavir and Albert. The F.B.I. also admitted it had placed a bug in the house.
Since that time, plaintiffs have amended the complaint and are now using the Tort Claims Act in an effort to recover damages for the government’s misconduct. Extensive discovery has already occurred and documents obtained make clear that F.B.J. headquarters gave agents broad authorization for burglaries and illegal bugging.
Some of the defendants in the case include L. Patrick Gray, recently indicted for authorizing burglaries, and Wallace La Prade , who was recently forced from his New York F.B.I. post. The case has created havoc in the F.B.I. and is one of the pressures that forced Gray’ s indictment.
Michael Ratner with Paul Chevigny