You'd think an undercover police officer embedded in the protest scene in Washington DC would know enough not to have an active presence on social media. Fortunately for DC-area protesters, veteran police officer Nicole Rizzi, who allegedly worked undercover for at least three years in the city's protest scene, was the author of a (now-deleted) Twitter account as well as two popular blogs, all of which discussed her police work.
The suspicions around Rizzi, who gave the name “Missy” at protests, began sometime in 2009, when activist Lacy MacAuley noticed that “Missy” appeared at nearly every DC-area protest but didn't seem to know anyone.
“She had been showing up at even small protests that you wouldn’t think anyone had heard about,” MacAuley, who works as a media manager for the Institute of Policy Studies, told the Washington Post. “I had a strange feeling about her, but I didn’t want to get paranoid.”
But in November 2012, MacAuley's suspicions were confirmed. A friend at bar suggested that she follow a Twitter user with the handle @snufftastic. MacAuley recognized the user as “Missy” and was shocked to discover that many of @snufftastic's 8,000 tweets were about her job as a police officer in DC.
MacAuley spotted “Missy” at an anti-Keystone pipeline protest several months later and decided to seek the help of Jeffrey Light, a DC-based attorney who specializes in police misconduct issues, and his partner, Sean Canavan. The two lawyers didn't have a name for @snufftastic or “Missy,” though they quickly identified her using some web sleuthing. Based in part on a (now-deleted) tweet in which @snufftastic said, “They used to call me No Sweat Nico,” Light and Canavan narrowed the possibilities to one of two Nicoles listed as police officers in DC. One, Nicole Rizzi, had a Facebook account listing @snufftastic as her Twitter and Instagram user name. They also found a post on Rizzi's (now-deleted) Tumblr discussing her work as an undercover police officer.
In response to a post from a reader asking her how flexible her dress code was as a police officer, Rizzi said she wore “ordinary clothes,” but made a distinction between her position and that of a “plainclothes” patrol cop: “In the position I’m in, it’s beneficial to wear ordinary clothes. Plainclothes assignments too, you wear what would blend in.”
After filming and photographing Rizzi at several other protests, including an anti-Bangladesh sweatshop demonstration organized by the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), Light and Canavan felt they had enough to file a lawsuit against Rizzi, the city of Washington DC, and DC's mayor.
The lawsuit, filed on Monday on behalf of the USAS, does not seek any damages, but does seek a judgment barring police from continuing to infiltrate the group. A law passed by the D.C. Council in 2004 prohibits police from infiltrating advocacy and activist groups without permission from high-ranking police officials.
“I cannot think of any legitimate reason for the police to be sending an undercover officer to those,” Light told the Washington Post. “She was handing out fliers, asking to be put on e-mail and asking about future events. If the police wanted to know that, they could’ve checked the Web site.”
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