CHARLOTTE – A man arrested and charged with a traffic violation claimed Tuesday he was being targeted by police who worried he would organize protests during the Democratic National Convention. His lawyer said police claimed his client’s name was on a terrorist watch list.
Police arrested James Ian Tyson on Sunday morning for allegedly driving with a suspended license. Tyson, 27, said he was only a passenger in the car.
Tyson was taken to the Mecklenburg County jail, and held on $10,000 bond. On Monday, Chief District Court Judge Lisa Bell reduced his bond to $2,500 and he was released.
Tyson, a resident of Charlotte, said he is a volunteer with the Rainforest Action Network, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve rainforests. The group hung a banner reading “Bank of Coal” on Bank of America Stadium in May before the bank’s annual shareholders meeting. Five members of the group were arrested. Tyson was not one of them.
In Sunday’s arrest report, Tyson was identified as a “known activist and protester who is currently on a terrorist watch list,” according to his lawyer, Derek Fletcher. In the report, Fletcher said, the arresting officer wrote, “Request he be held due to DNC being a National Security Event.”
“We strongly believe that Jimmy has been targeted as an organizer and protester,” Fletcher said. “We believe that the government was going to hold Jimmy throughout the course of the DNC in jail so he would not be out in public able to organize. This has nothing to do with his license.”
The Charlotte police department did not immediately return telephone calls and emails from The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The FBI’s terrorist-screening center maintains the U.S. government’s Consolidated Terrorist Watchlist. Established following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the watchlist is a database containing information about people suspected of being involved in terrorist activity. There were nearly 400,000 individuals on the government’s consolidated terrorist watch list in 2011.
A 2009 government audit found that the list had a high error rate, with some people wrongly kept on the list and many other kept on the list too long.
During the past few days, protest groups have held several demonstrations in Charlotte, including Sunday’s March on Wall Street South, which drew about 800 people. The convention, which opened Tuesday, ends Thursday night when President Barack Obama accepts the nomination at the 74,000-seat Bank of America Stadium.
Fletcher said they will fight the charges.
“It’s a form of prior restraint. It is a method that the government is employing to suppress his First Amendment rights. We look forward to being in court and proving his innocence,” he said.
Tyson was found guilty in 2007 of fishing trout out of season, for which he was fined $145, according to police records. Last year, he pleaded guilty to a charge of driving while impaired and was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation.
“This list that I’m on is going to continue to haunt me for the rest of my life unless I can figure out a way to get off it,” Tyson said. “I’ve never been arrested for any political action ever. It raises the question: Who put me on the watch list? Why? For what reason? And how do I get off it?”