ACLU plans to investigate Rainbow Family treatment

Associated Press/July 6, 2008

Cheyenne, Wyoming - The American Civil Liberties Union said Saturday that it plans to investigate the actions of federal law enforcers who arrested five Rainbow Family members in western Wyoming during their annual gathering.

The U.S. Forest Service says a mob of about 400 members of the Rainbow Family, a group of hippie types and eccentrics who camp on public land every year, threw rocks and sticks at Forest Service officers who tried to arrest a member of the group.

Up to 60 federal and local law enforcers responded, Forest Service officials say, and fired "pepper balls" - similar to paint balls but containing a pepper solution - at the crowd to control it.

As many as 7,000 members of the Rainbow Family camped out this year on Forest Service land near the Big Sandy Reservoir. The group holds a weeklong gathering on public land in a different area each year.

The Rainbows and federal officers have clashed before, and in 1998, the Forest Service established a national response team to deal with the group.

The ACLU plans to accept collect calls from Rainbow Family members for the next two weeks to hear their version of events, Linda Burt, executive director of Wyoming's ACLU, said Saturday.

Burt said she has been concerned to hear reports that Rainbow Family members have been ticketed for small traffic infractions. She also said she has heard reports that officers have walked among the Rainbow camps asking people whether they're using drugs.

"I have some real concerns about how this is handled," Burt said. "Particularly the pretext arrests - the idea that people are just cruising around looking for people to arrest when there have been no complaints and no reason for them to be there."

Burt said the ACLU's response to the matter will depend on what it learns from Rainbow Family members. It's possible the ACLU will issue a report, she said, and it may also consider posting observers at future Rainbow Family gatherings.

Rita Vollmer, spokeswoman for the Forest Service, declined Saturday to name the five people arrested Thursday or say why the agency was trying to arrest the first person.

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