Dr. Peter Watts was arrested and beaten at the US/Canadian border last Tuesday.

11 December 2009

Note: additions are being made after the cut and edits are stricken.

If you're not familiar with the work of Dr. Peter Watts, you really should be. His degrees in marine ecophysiology aside, he is also a sci-fi author of some talent and is best known for releasing his novels under a Creative Commons license in addition to having them published through Tor, among them Starfish and the mind-bending transhumanist novel Blindsight, which will certainly make you reconsider what you think about how you think. His work is well known by the science fiction fandom for taking hard SF in new directions, which is why I'm posting about this.

Last Tuesday while crossing back into Canada (his country of citizenship) from Michigan after helping a friend in the States move he was taken into custody after being pepper sprayed and having the shit kicked out of him by police. By all accounts, what went down was this: he was swarmed by police while stopped at the pre-border checkpoint in Port Huron while trying to cross back into Canada. At some point, he got out of his car (whether or not he was ordered to do so is unclear at this time); he tried to get back into his car after being ordered to do so and was then beaten soundly. He was thrown in jail, possibly pressured to waive his Miranda rights (he didn't, and I don't think that he would be able to do anyway as he isn't an American citizen), denied legal counsel, and brought up on charges of assaulting a federal officer. As one would expect of the Border Patrol, all data storage media (including a USB key and dead-tree notebook) were confiscated. His rental car and luggage are still impounded at this time. The icing on the cake was having to walk to the other side of the Canadian border in shirtsleeves during the first snowstorm of the winter up there... being driven across the Blue Water Bridge and deposited on the other side... he's looking at two years in prison if convicted.

Cindy Cohn of the EFF put Dr. Watts in touch with civil rights lawyers in the state of Michigan, and his partner in Canada was able to swing bail to get him released from custody. It is said that there are people attempting to get hold of the surveillance camera footage from the border crossing and the court records will probably be pulled from PACER and put online shortly. An unsubstantiated statement made by a commenter at Dr. Watts' blog says that (s)he gotten in contact with someone at US DHS and eyebrows have been raised over the incident. I've set a search agent to keep watch for any breaking developments that hit the Net and I'll post what it finds.

Dr. Watts' family and friends are spreading the word to collect donations for his legal defense; if you go to his backlist page there is a PayPal link at which you can donate money. I checked it out and sent in a donation so I'll vouch for it; it's under donate (at) rifters (dot) com (there it's called the Niblet Memorial Kibble Fund, through which he normally collects donations to help pay for food and trips to the vet for cats he rescues in Toronto).

Please, spread the word and get people to help out. He needs help and we can give it to him. Commenter Thivai in the post over at Boing Boing posted contact info for the Chief and Patrol Agent of US Customs and Border Protection who are in charge of that region of the country in reply #189. I've reprinted the information here, just in case (slightly reformatted for clarity and verified here):

Chief Patrol Agent: Randy L. Gallegos

Service Area: Detroit Sector. Area of responsibility includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.

Sector Headquarters Location: Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan

Stations: Stations of the Detroit Sector are located in Detroit, Port Huron, Sault Ste. Marie, Gibralter, Michigan, and Sandusky, Ohio.

Phone Number - (586) 239-2160

Sector Headquarters Mailing Address - P.O. Box 450040, Selfridge ANGB, MI 48045-0040

Public affairs office phone number - 586-239-2160

This contact info, incidentally, is how complaints of misconduct are to be filed. And for pity's sake, people, if you do contact them, be civil! I would like to point out that anyone contacting them to start trouble, make threats, or otherwise act like a jackass is only going to hurt Dr. Watts' case because he will have to return to Michigan to go to court next calendar year and any asshattery on the part of Someone Out There could be used against him.

(By the way.. since when does the Detroit sector of the CBP issue challenge coins? I thought only the military had those.)

Dr. Watts has posted an update here, which has prompted some edits to my original post.