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FBI and Colorado Springs Police Department sued over alleged unlawful invasion of privacy

FBI, Colorado Springs police sued over alleged unlawful invasion of privacy
FBI, Colorado Springs police sued over alleged unlawful invasion of privacy 01:22

The FBI, Colorado Springs Police Department and several officers are being sued over the alleged unlawful invasion of privacy of a Colorado Springs housing activist and nonprofit organization.

The ACLU of Colorado filed the lawsuit on behalf of Jacqueline 'Jax' Armendariz Unzueta and the Chinook Center Tuesday in federal court in the district of Colorado. The lawsuit alleges the FBI and CSPD violated the plaintiffs' First and Fourth Amendment rights, infringing on their rights to free speech and privacy.

Colorado Springs housing activist Jacqueline 'Jax' Armendariz Unzueta CBS

Specifically, the ACLU alleges the two agencies arrested Armendariz Unzueta while marching over housing-related issues in Colorado Springs back in July 2021. The allegations appear to stem from a broader alleged spying campaign from local police and the FBI in Colorado Springs and elsewhere during marches and protests that took place in 2020 and 2021.

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"Our Constitution recognized the profound danger that these types of warrants would have on freedom and liberty and precluded them. Indeed, these types of general warrants were common in the time of King George and helped lead to the American Revolution," Tim Macdonald, ACLU of Colorado's legal director, said in a statement Tuesday. "Unless called to account in this lawsuit, the police could seize and search the phones and devices of anyone in our community."

Bodycam footage from Colorado Springs officers in July 2021, provided by the ACLU, shows the officers discussing undercover officers in the crowd. One officer shows another a photo of activists on a handout and says, "boot to the face." Later, an officer asks if they should just "throw flashbangs at everyone?" or throw "stingers," a term referring to grenades that launch projectiles or tear gas for crowd control.

It appears the officers didn't know their bodycams were on, since over an hour into the footage, one says he's turning his on and another says he's going to wait until they're closer to the marchers. Minutes later, one officer asks if the others are recording yet and another says "no."

It wasn't immediately clear what anyone else involved with that march was charged with, but bodycam footage shows marchers walking and biking down a street, chanting and playing musical instruments as Colorado Springs police officers rush them and detain at least two men. Minutes later, they detained more people involved in the march.

Colorado Springs police officers arrest housing activists in July 2021. Bodycam footage of the march was provided to CBS News Colorado by the ACLU of Colorado, which just filed a federal lawsuit against the department, as well as the FBI over allegedly unlawful surveillance stemming from this protest. Colorado Springs Police Department via ACLU of Colorado

The march was declared unlawful at the time and police accuse the participants of belonging to a radical and revolutionary group, noting its ideology, written on participants' shirts that read "housing is a human right."

In Tuesday's 52-page lawsuit, the ACLU states several search warrants obtained by the Colorado Springs Police Department for private Facebook messages lacked probable cause and were political in nature. The only limitation of the warrants, according to the lawsuit, was the timeframe of the messages sought and Facebook complied with the warrant and turned the messages over to police.

"The warrant was an unjustified effort to intrude on the private messages of a group whose political expression the CSPD dislikes,"  the lawsuit states.

The FBI and Colorado Springs Police Department both said they do not comment on pending litigation.

"This case is about love for my community. I hope CSPD will never again target, terrorize, and attempt to silence others as they did to me," said Armendariz Unzueta. "We cannot let CSPD continue to be arrogant bullies with badges and guns that violate the civil rights of innocent people because of their entrenched -- and ignorant -- political and racial biases."

The ACLU is seeking unspecified monetary damages for its plaintiffs, that attorneys fees be paid by the defendants, that the messages seized be deleted by the agencies possessing them and any other legal or financial relief a judge might order. It's also seeking a trial by jury.

The full lawsuit can be found below. If you have difficulty viewing this on your device, click here.

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