Charges dropped against G-20 activists who posted to Twitter

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The Allegheny County District Attorney dropped all charges yesterday against two G-20 activists who were posting information online about police activity during the summit on Twitter.

The Pittsburgh defense attorney for the men indicated that the district attorney is stepping aside so that a federal prosecutor in New York can proceed unencumbered in a federal case against them, following a search of their Queens residence.

Elliott M. Madison and Michael T. Wallschlaeger were facing charges of hindering apprehension, criminal use of communication facility and possessing instruments of crime. Before their cases came before a district judge, their attorney brought a motion to unseal police affidavits that backed a local search warrant. But Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman never heard that motion yesterday. Instead, the district attorney's office withdrew all charges against the men.

"The charges were ill-thought, ill-conceived and they never should have been filed to begin with," said Claudia Davidson, who represents both men.

Mike Manko, spokesman for the district attorney, said the office decided to withdraw charges after consulting with other law enforcement agencies.

He said, "After an extensive review of the facts and circumstances underlying those two arrests that took place on Sept. 24, 2009, there appears to be sufficient evidence to suggest that certain acts that occurred during the G-20 summit were not isolated incidents confined to Allegheny County but instead may have been related to more expansive activities that went beyond the Pittsburgh G-20 in both time and substance. That being the case, a determination was made that until further investigative activities by law enforcement agencies can be completed, it would be more prudent to have the current charges withdrawn rather than prosecuted at this time."

Court documents filed against Mr. Madison show that Pennsylvania State Police served a search warrant on Room 238 of the CareFree Inn on Kisow Drive in Kennedy the afternoon of Sept. 24, the first day of the G-20 summit and also the day unsanctioned protests were called in Lawrenceville.

At the motel, police found Mr. Madison and Mr. Wallschlaeger seated before personal computers listening to both police and EMS scanners. They were using headphones, microphones and maps to alert protesters about the movements of law enforcement, the complaint said. They posted information they'd found through cell phones and on Twitter.

The pair also are under federal investigation for their G-20 activities in New York and the FBI searched their home in Queens for 16 hours. Agents seized computers, "professional-grade gas masks," a slingshot, a pound of liquid mercury and books including "The Poisons and Antidotes Sourcebook," and "Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook," according to a letter from the federal prosecutor following the search. The federal prosecutor states in it that agents did not seize samurai swords, daggers and assorted machetes.

The defense attorney on the federal case, Martin R. Stolar, obtained a temporary restraining order against the FBI in the Eastern District of New York.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment on the investigation.


Gabrielle Banks can be reached at gbanks@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1370.


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