Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mayfield v. United States (9th Cir. - Dec. 10, 2009)

You always think it couldn't possibly happen to you. Until it does. I'm sure that's what Brandon Mayfield thought, anyway. Check this out:

"On March 11, 2004, terrorists’ bombs exploded on commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, killing 191 people and injuring another 1600 people, including three U.S. citizens. Shortly after the bombings, the Spanish National Police (“SNP”) recovered fingerprints from a plastic bag containing explosive detonators. The bag was found in a Renault van located near the bombing site. On March 13, 2004, the SNP submitted digital photographs of the fingerprints to Interpol Madrid, which then transmitted them to the FBI in Quantico, Virginia.

The FBI searched fingerprints in its own computer system, attempting to match the prints received from Spain. On March 15, 2004, an FBI computer produced 20 candidates whose known prints had features in common with what was identified as Latent Finger Print #17 (“LFP #17”). The FBI performed background checks on each of the candidates, one of whom was Brandon Mayfield. Mayfield is a U.S. citizen, born in Oregon and brought up in Kansas. He lives with his wife and three children in Aloha, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. He is 43 years old, a former Army officer with an honorable discharge, and a practicing lawyer. Mayfield is also a Muslim with strong ties to the Muslim community in Portland.

On March 17, 2004, FBI Agent Green, a fingerprint specialist, concluded that Mayfield’s left index fingerprint matched LFP #17. Green then submitted the fingerprints for verification to Massey, a former FBI employee who continued to contract with the FBI to perform forensic analysis of fingerprints. Massey verified that Mayfield’s left index fingerprint matched LFP #17. The prints were then submitted to a senior FBI manager, Wieners, for additional verification.
Wieners also verified the match.

On March 20, 2004, the FBI issued a formal report matching Mayfield’s print to LFP #17. The next day, FBI surveillance agents began to watch Mayfield and follow him and members of his family when they traveled to and from the mosque, Mayfield’s law office, the children’s schools, and other family activities. The FBI also applied to the Foreign Intelligence Security Court (“FISC”) for authorization to place electronic listening devices in the “shared and intimate” rooms of the Mayfield family home; searched the home while nobody was there; obtained private and protected information about the Mayfields from third parties; searched Mayfield’s law offices; and placed wiretaps on his office and home phones. The application for the FISC order was personally approved by John Ashcroft, then the Attorney General of the United States.

In April 2004, the FBI sent Mayfield’s fingerprints to the Spanish government. The SNP examined the prints and the FBI’s report, and concluded that there were too many unexplained
dissimilarities between Mayfield’s prints and LFP #17 to verify the match. FBI agents then met with their Spanish counterparts in Madrid, who refuted the FBI’s conclusion that there was a match.

After the meeting with the SNP, the FBI submitted an affidavit to the district court, stating that experts considered LFP #17 a “100% positive identification” of Mayfield. The affidavit did not mention that the SNP had reached a different conclusion. The affidavit did include information about Mayfield’s religious practice and association with other Muslims. On May 4, 2004, the government named Brandon Mayfield as a material witness and filed an application for material
witness order. The district court appointed an independent fingerprint expert, Kenneth Moses, to analyze the prints in question. Mayfield and his defense attorneys approved the appointment. Moses concluded that LFP #17 was from Mayfield’s left index finger.

The district court issued several search warrants, which resulted in the search of Mayfield’s home and office, and the seizure of his computer and paper files, including his children’s
homework. On May 6, 2004, Mayfield was arrested and imprisoned for two weeks. His family was not told where he was being held, but was told that his fingerprints matched those of the Madrid train bomber, and that he was the prime suspect in a crime punishable by death. While Mayfield was detained, national and international headlines declared him to be linked to the Madrid bombings. On May 20, 2004, news reports revealed that Spain had matched LFP #17 with a man named Ouhane Daoud, an Algerian citizen. Mayfield was released from prison the following day."

That's pretty chilling stuff. To me, anyway. Since it could happen to anyone. Or at least any Muslim, I suspect. Even a lawyer and honorably discharged Army officer. Based simply on a fingerprint that potentially matches any one of twenty people. Including you.

Needless to say, Mayfield sued. And got a pretty payday. Two million dollars, plus an apology, plus some other stuff.

He tried to reserve in the settlement some specified claims about FISA warrants, but the Ninth Circuit holds today that in light of the settlement, he doesn't have standing anymore.

So he's going to have to be satisfied with the $2 million. Which, I'm sure, doesn't take away from the horror I'm positive he experienced. But you know what? It's a darn good start. That'll help you and your family replace a lot of bad memories with really good ones, I imagine.