Clavir v. Levi – Government Misconduct – CCR Docket 1978-1979

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 CCR 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. It was later learned that the beeping device was number 107 of an apparently large number of such devices used by police and the F.B.I. As they were leaving the city, Clavir and Albert noticed a three-car tail following them. They decided to turn back 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.

That June, the F.B.I. answered the complaint, admitting various kinds of surveillance against Kunstler, Clavir and Albert, including mail covers, bumper beepers, physical surveillance and wiretapping. About two months later, as a result of a grand jury investigation into illegal activities of the F.B.I., it amended the answer and admitted to a series of what the F.B.I. called “black bag jobs” (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.I. headquarters gave agents broad authorization for burglaries and illegal bugging.

One important issue is still undecided. The government investigated F.B.I. agents’ involvement in the burglaries and took approximately 15 statements from F.B.I. agents involved in these burglaries. When the government agreed to turn these statements over to plaintiffs, the agents went to Court in an effort to stop the government from doing so. Once we obtain these statements, we will have detailed knowledge of the manner in which F.B.I. agents carried out these illegal entries.

Some of the defendants in the case include L. Patrick Gray, indicted for authorizing other burglaries, and Wallace LaPrade, who was forced last year 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