Amidst the tarps, sleeping bags, and food wrappers at City Hall during the Occupy Austin protests last fall, three people were not who they appeared to be. Not occupiers, but infiltrators.
Known as "Butch," "Dirk," and "Rick," all three were undercover officers with the Austin Police Department.
Occupiers say that "Butch," aka APD detective Shannon Dowell, went beyond infiltration and actively encouraged members of the movement to create and deploy a homemade device called a "lockbox." The device enables protestors to anchor themselves to each other, or an object, in a way that is almost police-proof. Several protestors used the devices in a protest at the Houston port, and were arrested on felony obstruction charges.
According to an affidavit by David Cortez, head of Occupy Austin's bank actions committee, it was Dowell who encouraged the activists to don the lockboxes. "He was a fairly quiet individual who never contributed much to our meetings," Cortez recalled of Dowell, "but consistently pulled myself and others aside individually in order to express his frustration with debate and eagerness for more aggressive and provocative actions than our standard peaceful & nonviolent ones," reads the affidavit.
According to the affidavit of fellow OA member Yatzel Sabat, possible acts of civil disobedience, "including trespassing, sit-ins or obstruction of passage ways" had been discussed at meetings but it was Butch (Dowell) who was involved in the initial discussion of using lockboxes, and it was he who "acted more excited about the idea," reads the affidavit. "He volunteered to gather the piping and other materials by purchasing it at Lowe's and delivering it back to the members of the group that were planning to go to Houston for the demonstration," she continued. "Butch persuaded us to use these arm tubes."
The revelation of APD’s deeper involvement emerged in the Houston trial of Occupy Austin protester Ronnie Garza, one of the Occupy protesters arrested at the port shutdown. Also covering the case for progressive blog FireDogLake is Occupy Austin supporter Kit O’Connell, who notes the next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 5.