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Trial starts over Oregon lawyer’s mistaken arrest

July 15, 2005

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – A lawsuit filed by Brandon
Mayfield, the Muslim lawyer detained for two weeks because of a
faulty fingerprint match that linked him to last year’s Madrid
bombings, went to trial on Friday as the U.S. government
insisted that it had made a “reasonable mistake.”

Attorneys for the FBI asked U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken
to dismiss parts of the civil case, in which Mayfield, 38, is
suing the government for unspecified damages for violating his
civil rights and to have materials seized in the investigation
returned or destroyed.

Mayfield, an American-born Muslim convert, was held as a
material witness for two weeks last year after the FBI
mistakenly identified his fingerprint on a bag of detonators
found near a Madrid train station. The March 11, 2004, train
bombings in Madrid killed 191 people and wounded more than
1,500.

A test by Spanish police ruled out a match between Mayfield
and the fingerprints found in Madrid, and the FBI issued a rare
apology to Mayfield after releasing him.

“If it hadn’t been for the Spanish National Police, Mr.
Mayfield would be in federal prison today facing the death
penalty,” said Mayfield’s lawyer, Gerry Spence, who has
represented former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos and
white separatist Randy Weaver.

“The FBI has apologized to Mr. Mayfield and his family,”
said Richard Montague, a senior trial attorney for the U.S.
Department of Justice, “This is a case of a reasonable
mistake.”

The case is being closely watched by civil rights activists
because it challenges some of the powers of the Patriot Act,
which was passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to give the
government more leeway in gathering intelligence. The Patriot
Act is currently up for renewal and lawmakers are tweaking some
of its provisions.




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