Federal court victory against Secret Service
Culminating a years-long legal struggle and a week-long trial, on March 12 a federal jury found the Secret Service had carried out a de facto arrest without probable cause when agents dragged Indian-American Vijay Shah from a July 2004 protest march at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Agents handcuffed Shah, dragged him to a police car and took him to a police station where he was held in handcuffs in a holding cell.
After intervention by protest supporters and his attorney, John Pavlos, Shah was released without charges. Secret Service agent Darin Czellecz was found liable for violation of Shah’s Fourth Amendment constitutional rights. Pavlos was the legal observer for the protest march, which was organized by the International Action Center, the Answer Coalition and other forces. Pavlos met Shah for the first time while Shah was held handcuffed on the steps at City Hall Plaza. He offered to represent him on the spot, and Shah accepted.
Shah had come looking for the protest, which had begun and marched by the convention center where the DNC was to be held the following day before he got there. After looking around the area Shah found and joined the demonstration as it marched back from the convention site to the Boston Common. Witnesses at the trial described how Secret Service agents and Boston Police grabbed him from behind, held him in handcuffs on some steps by Boston City Hall, forced him into a police car and whisked him away, while supporters from the demonstration chanted, “Let him go!” and “Racial profiling!”
Shah spoke to Workers World after the trial. When asked why he sued the Secret Service, he stated: “They violated my rights. I felt the need to guard and protect our rights under the Constitution, and hold the Secret Service accountable. I didn’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else.”
Shah called the verdict “an extraordinary rebuke of the Secret Service and victory for people’s rights against racial profiling and abuse of police power. It was very clear the Secret Service was pressed by this case. Throughout the trial they had phalanx of up to 15 Secret Service agents all dressed in dark blue suits with lapel pins and crew cuts attempting to intimidate me and the jury. When I testified they tried to stare me down, but I wouldn’t be intimidated. We also had allies in court giving me support as well as other witnesses ... who spoke truth to power.”
Shah continued: “In the end the jury saw through their attempts to demonize me, invoke fears of post-9/11 security concerns and paint me as having done something wrong, and found the Secret Service agent liable for having in fact arrested me without probable cause, in violation of my Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. My legal team of John Pavlos and Brooks Ames did an extraordinary job in succeeding in getting this case to actually come to trial at all, and in fact to prevail. Our original suit raised the issue of racial profiling and included additional officers and the chain of command, but that was not allowed by the court. However, the jury made itself clear on the principle.”