Katherine Olejnik and Matthew Duran of Olympia were found in civil contempt of court last September for declining to say what they might know about a group of black-clad Northwest anarchists who smashed windows of cars and buildings after breaking away from a protest march.
U.S. District Judge Richard Jones ordered their release on Wednesday, saying it was clear further time at the Federal Detention Center in Seatac wasn't going to persuade them to talk. The judge said they should be freed by 4 p.m. Thursday, and they were released at 4 p.m. on the dot, met by close friends and family, said Olejnik's lawyer, Jenn Kaplan.
"We're thrilled," Kaplan said. "It's a vindication of what our clients have been saying from the outset: that they were never going to participate in this witch hunt."
Neither Olejnik nor Duran was suspected of involvement in the vandalism, but they were subpoenaed to testify as part of the grand jury investigation. Among the buildings damaged were Niketown, several bank offices and the building that houses the Seattle branch of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Seattle police arrested several suspects, at least three of whom were convicted, and federal agents sought to find the culprits who damaged the courthouse.
A federal search warrant affidavit filed in the case was mistakenly unsealed and obtained by The Seattle Times last October. It laid out a glimpse of the case, showing that state and federal agents were watching some members of the small group of Portland anarchists even before May Day. The affidavit said investigators were tracking members as early as April 9, when they and others were observed by FBI surveillance at a Portland event.
Agents later watched the anarchists as they traveled north for the May 1 protest.
Olejnik told the grand jury that she wasn't at the protest, that she didn't know who had gone to Seattle to take part, and that no one had told her what happened during it, Kaplan said. But once the prosecutor began asking about the political beliefs of others, she clammed up — and kept quiet, even after being offered immunity.
"It was something that was just undertaken to propagate fear within the community," Kaplan said. "The idea that your friends were going to be at risk of having to testify against you or going to jail - this could happen to anybody if they happen to know someone who's suspected of a crime."
The judge found Olejnik and Duran in civil contempt of court last September and ordered them jailed. The confinement could have lasted another 13 months, but the pair only appeared to be becoming more resolute, he wrote, and further confinement appeared pointless. They could face future prosecution for criminal contempt of court.
"Whatever the merits of their choices not to testify, their demeanor has never given the court reason to doubt their sincerity or the strength of their convictions," Jones wrote.
The U.S. attorney's office in Seattle declined to comment Thursday, but issued a statement last fall saying prosecutors do not "investigate or seek to silence lawful free speech, or dissent. We do, however, investigate and enforce the law where speech crosses the line and becomes threats or acts of violence."
"We are not free to disseminate our filings regarding a grand jury matter," spokeswoman Emily Langlie wrote in an email Thursday.
Duran served two weeks in solitary confinement at the start of his detention, returned in late December and has been there ever since, the judge wrote. Olejnik served her first six days in solitary, and was returned there from Dec. 27 until at least Feb. 12.
Their physical and mental health had deteriorated, the judge said.