San Diego, CA – Government admissions in the civil rights trial of a Southern California woman suing the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for harassment have sparked questions over whether the law enforcement agency overstepped its authority and engaged in domestic spying.by RICK ROGERS North County Times
Filings in U.S. District Court in San Diego by Justice Department lawyers defending NCIS and Marine personnel disclosed that federal agents conducted surveillance on the private investigator (who often works for military legal defense teams) at her Carlsbad home in 2010.
The information appeared in the government response to a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Carolyn Martin, a civilian San Diego County military defense investigator. The government’s response was filed in late September. Ms. Martin was involved in the successful defense of US Marine Cpl. RL last October.
The suit claims the NCIS, its agents, Camp Pendleton military police and a Marine staff judge advocate violated Martin’s constitutional rights through intimidation and harassment because of her success against them in court.
“NCIS retaliated against Ms. Martin because she is a zealous, effective defense investigator. Special Agent Martin [no relation] and his colleagues seized Ms. Martin for hours without justification, pounded on her front door near dawn one morning to falsely ‘charge’ her with a federal felony … spied on her at her home and traumatized her in other ways,” the civil complaint contends.
The government has denied all wrongdoing.
The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial counties filed the civil complaint late last year seeking a trial and financial damages.
The Martin suit accuses NCIS agents of interfering with her employment and denying her access to military courts. It also accuses NCIS agents of conducting surveillance of her home on multiple occasions.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and NCIS director Mark D. Clookie are defendants in their capacities as the leaders of their agencies.
Others named in the suit: Wade Jacobson, NCIS special agent in charge of Marine Corps West Field Office, Camp Pendleton; Lt. Col. Sean Sullivan, the Staff Judge Advocate at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego; and NCIS Special Agent Gerald “Jerry” Martin, believed to be based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
Seven law enforcement officers, whose names are unknown, are also defendants. They could be added to the suit later.
Responding to Carolyn Martin’s multiple claims, the government “admits NCIS agent(s) assisted with physical surveillance of plaintiff during its investigation.”
The government also “admits that on May 3, 2010, at approximately 6:55 a.m., at plaintiff’s residence” an NCIS agent issued Martin a federal citation for allegedly impersonating a federal agent.
ACLU lawyers claim the citation is so legally flawed as to constitute harassment. The government has not acted on the citation.
News that the NCIS, a federal law enforcement agency charged with investing serious offenses affecting the Navy and Marine Corps, would spy on a civilian’s home has one legal scholar asking whether the Posse Comitatus Act, enacted after the Civil War to limit the role of federal military personnel in the policing of civilians, has been abridged.
“This spying, or surveillance if you will, strikes me as very, very wrong and very troubling,” said Eugene Fidell, professor at Yale Law School where he teaches military law.
“We as a nation have a real serious allergy concerning the military or military-affiliated law enforcement investigating civilians. We have plenty of purely civilian law enforcement agencies in this country, like the FBI, to do that.”
The U.S. Attorneys Office for San Diego has declined comment on the case.
Ed Buice, an NCIS spokesman, called such investigations “routine and conducted as part of law enforcement investigations. Yes, NCIS does surveillance as appropriate, on and off military (installations), of both civilians and service members.”
Fidell said even if the surveillance of Carolyn Martin might not technically violate the Posse Comitatus Act, it does “violate the intent of the act and definitely deserves the harsh disinfectant of sunlight.”
There are no court dates set in the case, as one of the defendants in the case, an NCIS agent, is appealing a judge’s decision not to grant him qualified immunity.