RICHMOND, Va. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have asked a federal court to reject a request by government officials to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Marine veteran Brandon Raub, who was arrested in August 2012 by a swarm of FBI, Secret Service agents and local police and forcibly detained in a psychiatric ward for a week because of controversial song lyrics and political views posted on his Facebook page. The lawsuit alleges that Raub’s seizure and detention were the result of a federal government program code-named “Operation Vigilant Eagle” that involves the systematic surveillance of military veterans who express views critical of the government. In asking the court to reject motions to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the arresting officers and mental health workers involved in Raub’s involuntary commitment, Institute attorneys challenged the government officials’ contentions that they did not know they were violating Raub’s First and Fourth Amendment rights, as well as the manner in which Virginia’s civil commitment statutes are being used to silence individuals engaged in lawfully exercising their free speech rights. Since coming to Raub’s defense, The Rutherford Institute has been contacted by military veterans across the country recounting similar incidents.
“It’s bad enough that the government is targeting military veterans for expressing their discontent over America’s rapid transition to a police state, but for any government official to suggest that they shouldn’t be held accountable for violating a citizen’s rights on the grounds that they were unaware of the Constitution’s prohibitions makes a mockery of our so-called system of representative government,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.
On Aug. 16, 2012, Chesterfield police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Brandon Raub’s home, asking to speak with him about his Facebook posts. Like many Facebook users, Raub, a Marine who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, uses his Facebook page to post song lyrics and air his political opinions. Without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, law enforcement officials handcuffed Raub and transported him to police headquarters, then to John Randolph Medical Center, where he was held against his will. In a hearing on Aug. 20, mental health personnel allegedly pointed to Raub’s Facebook posts as the reason for his incarceration. While Raub stated that the Facebook posts were being read out of context, a Special Justice ordered Raub be held up to 30 more days for psychological evaluation and treatment. In coming to Raub’s aid, Institute attorneys challenged the government’s actions as procedurally improper, legally unjustified, and in violation of Raub’s First Amendment rights. On Aug. 23, Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett ordered Raub’s immediate release, stating that the government’s case was “so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy.” In filing suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Institute attorneys asked that the harm done to Raub by government officials be acknowledged, the violation of his First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights be rectified, and damages be awarded for the harm caused by the deprivation of his constitutional rights. Affiliate attorneys Anthony Troy of Eckert Seamens and William H. Hurd and Stephen C. Piepgrass of Troutman Sanders LLP in Richmond are assisting The Rutherford Institute in bringing the lawsuit.