A federal judge refused this afternoon to order authorities to immediately return most of the pamphlets, literature and other material seized during four police raids last weekend.
Six plaintiffs are suing the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Bob Fletcher and investigators and police officers over the searches and seizures at three Minneapolis homes and a St. Paul business office.
U.S. District Judge John Tunheim said that although the validity of the searches has been questioned, they were authorized beforehand by two state judges and affirmed by another, in part, after the fact.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the seizure of books, maps and other literature violated their First Amendment rights. Exhibits in court included pamphlets and books with the titles "Anarchism, What it Really Stands For," "You Can't Blow Up a Social Relationship," "The Ethics of Labor Struggle" and others.
Attorneys for the defendants have said the materials are part of a criminal investigation against members of the anarchist group the RNC Welcoming Committee.
Tunheim said that while it was "a bit far-fetched" to believe that authorities needed hundreds of copies of a document as evidence in a criminal case, he refused to order their immediate return because "plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate sufficient irreparable harm."
That doesn't mean, however, the judge said, that the plaintiffs can't ask for the release of materials at a later date or seek monetary damages for their seizure.
The plaintiffs also had sought an order prohibiting authorities from prosecuting them in the future for possessing and distributing political literature similar to that which was seized. Tunheim said the court can act to prevent continued police misconduct when First Amendment rights are threatened, but four raids over two days do not constitute a "pattern of harassment."
The federal lawsuit was filed Wednesday. A few days earlier, the same six plaintiffs plus two others had sued the same defendants in Ramsey County District Court.
District Judge Kathleen Gearin refused Tuesday to issue a temporary retraining order for the return of the documents. Tunheim's decision was the result of the plaintiffs' appeal to federal court.
Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551