[Ppnews] More Details Emerge in UW's Eco-Arson Case

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 7 11:00:16 EST 2008

Seattle Weekly.com


More Details Emerge in UW's Eco-Arson Case

What's this about the Mafia-like "Family"?

By <http://www.seattleweekly.com/authors/150768/>Nina Shapiro

February 6, 2008


Kevin P. Casey
Briana Waters: from a bad “Family”?

When a group of radical environmental activists 
burned down the University of Washington's Center 
for Urban Horticulture in 2001, it turned out to 
be a big mistake. Contrary to what the 
perpetrators believed, there was no genetic 
engineering going on at the professor's office they targeted.

Now, one of the approximately 20 defendants 
indicted in twin cases (which tie together a 
string of other arsons in Washington and Oregon) 
is trying to prevent what she claims would be 
another mistake: her conviction. On Monday, 
32-year-old Briana Waters will be the first of 
these defendants to actually go to trial. Some of 
the rest are fugitives; most have taken plea 
bargains. Waters, who claims she was home in bed 
at the time of the crime, was fingered by one of those who pleaded.

Last week, Waters emerged from a pretrial hearing 
in the Tacoma federal courthouse wearing a purple 
scarf and looking weary, her long blond hair 
pulled back from her face. She had traveled here 
from Oakland, Calif., where she and her lanky, 
blond male partner, who was by her side, are 
raising their 3-year-old and where, according to 
Waters' attorney Bob Bloom, she gives violin 
lessons to children and plays in Balkan bands. 
Waiting for her outside the courtroom were nine 
supporters, including a dreadlocked woman in a 
flowing turquoise robe. Many of these supporters 
decried as excessive the mandatory minimum 
sentence Waters faces should she be convicted: 35 years.

Bloom, a feisty attorney from Oakland, along with 
local co-counsel Neil Fox, insists Waters is not 
only innocent but the victim of government 
misconduct and dirty tricks. For example, they 
believe prosecutors improperly moved the case to 
Tacoma in order to find jurors who would be less 
sympathetic to the environmental movement. 
Prosecutors counter that the "center of gravity" 
of the charges is actually further south, since 
Waters and others in the underground movement 
were in Olympia at the time the plan was 
allegedly hatched. (The judge has ruled the change of venue to be acceptable.)

"Here's my situation," said the wise-cracking, 
gray-haired Bloom over sandwiches at a cafe 
across from the Tacoma courthouse where Waters, 
who declined to be interviewed, was having lunch 
with her supporters. "I'm [originally] from New 
York. I've practiced in a lot of political 
cases." Past clients have included members of the 
Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army, and 
the Puerto Rican independence movement. Call 
Bloom's voice mail and you'll be greeted with the 
following: "Hey, Britney's sister is pregnant and 
there's 151,000 dead people in Iraq. Leave a message."

Meanwhile, in hundreds of pages of documents both 
sides have already filed, a fascinating picture 
is taking shape: of an underground 
environmentalist cell that the government says 
was known among its members by the weirdly 
Mafia-like tag of "the Family." In Olympia lived 
the head of "the Family," a man named William 
Rodgers who went by the moniker "Avalon," 
according to government briefs. He was eventually 
arrested in Arizona and died in his jail cell, an apparent suicide.

According to the government, the cell was part of 
the Earth and Animal Liberation Fronts. Rodgers 
led divisions located in both Olympia and Eugene, 
Ore. In gatherings sometimes referred to as "book 
club meetings," members fixated on the genetic 
engineering of poplar trees. Genetic engineering 
has inflamed the passions of some 
environmentalists who believe it to be 
interfering with nature's biodiversity. The 
"Family" cell, the government says, staged arsons 
to stop it and even, at one point, "discussed 
whether it would be necessary to 'up the ante' 
and resort to assassinations." Although 
prosecutors don't suggest any assassinations were 
carried out, they say cell members, including 
Waters on at least one occasion, engaged in target practice. Waters denies it.

At the time of the UW arson, Waters was, by her 
account, finishing up her degree at Evergreen 
State College in Olympia. Her briefs say she was 
"spending hundreds of hours" on a school project: 
a documentary she was making about a tree-sit in 
the town of Randle, Wash., aimed at protecting 
old-growth forests. In a student report on 
"personal achievement" she submitted to 
Evergreen, she talked about taking part in a 
related protest at the Seattle offices of Plum 
Creek Timber Company. She was then dating a 
fellow Evergreen student named Justin Solondz, 
who is also charged in this case and remains a fugitive.

But Waters says she was a law-abiding 
environmental activist. In the early morning of 
March 21, 2001, when the Center for Urban 
Horticulture burned to the ground, Waters was asleep in bed, she says.

Prosecutors, however, say she borrowed a rental 
car from a family member on March 20 and drove 
with her boyfriend, Rodgers, and two others to 
the Greenlake Bar & Grill in Seattle. They ate 
dinner, then, sometime after midnight, headed to 
a dead-end street near the Center for Urban 
Horticulture, which is just outside the tony 
neighborhood of Laurelhurst, in the shadow of 
Husky Stadium. According to the government, 
Waters hid in the bushes with a walkie-talkie to 
alert the rest of the group if anyone was coming. 
Two of the others got into the Center and planted 
plastic tubs filled with gasoline, which were 
ignited by a switch triggered by an alarm clock. 
When Waters returned the rental car to her 
relative in Olympia, the government says, she 
told them she had traveled to Seattle to find an 
open emergency room because she needed treatment of some sort.

Much of the government's case hinges on the 
testimony of a woman who has pleaded guilty to a 
role in torching the center, and whose sentence 
is pending. In the months leading up to the 
arson, Jennifer Kolar worked as a software 
engineer with a Seattle company called 
Singingfish. She owned a yacht­yet was caught 
shoplifting at Whole Foods in the Roosevelt 
district, later explaining to an FBI agent that 
she did so for the cause, according to defense 
documents. A fellow member of the underground 
movement had complained of always being the one 
who had to steal food and supplies, and Kolar 
said she was trying to rectify that situation, according to the documents.

In a Dec. 16, 2005, meeting with FBI agents, 
Kolar identified four others as participants in 
the UW arson: Rodgers, a woman known as "Capital 
Hill Girl," Capital Hill Girl's "punk boyfriend," 
and "Crazy Dan." Just shy of two weeks later, she 
informed the government that she remembered 
another participant: Waters, who served as the lookout.

"We know Kolar is lying," Bloom says. He cites as 
proof the fact that Kolar has never named Oregon 
activist Lacey Phillabaum as a participant in the 
UW arson, yet Phillabaum has also pleaded guilty 
and is expected to testify against Waters. "If 
[Kolar] is lying about that, she's lying about 
other things as well," Bloom says. The defense 
for that reason moved to bar Kolar from 
testifying. Judge Franklin Burgess denied the request at last week's hearing.

Kolar is also at the center of the defense's 
claims of government misconduct. Waters' 
attorneys claim that the FBI report they were 
provided, describing the original interview with 
Kolar, did not list the four people she had 
named. Instead, the report attested that Kolar 
named herself, Rodgers, and a few others­a vague 
statement that leads the defense to believe that 
the FBI agents wrote a real, more specific report 
other than the one provided to the defense. The 
government says the report was authentic, and 
that the agents understood Kolar to be sure of 
the identities only of herself and Rodgers. 
Burgess found no evidence of misconduct and 
refused to hold oral arguments on the subject.

Indeed, the defense has gotten little love from 
Burgess, who also ruled that it cannot present 
testimony that equipment used in the arson does 
not constitute a "destructive device." This is an 
important matter for the defense because Waters 
is charged with using a destructive device during 
a crime of violence, and that charge by itself 
carries a heavy penalty: a 30-year mandatory minimum.

<mailto:nshapiro at seattleweekly.com>nshapiro at seattleweekly.com

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