Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Museum director sues feds over probe

The founding director of the Custer Battlefield Museum in Montana said Monday that his constitutional rights were violated when two dozen federal agents raided the museum, his home and other businesses in 2005 and in 2008. Agents, some of whom were armed with automatic weapons, were looking for any evidence that Chris Kortlander was illegally buying and selling American Indian artifacts when they surrounded his property in Garryowen, Mont., in March 2005. Yet, five years have passed and Kortlander has not been charged with a crime. Kortlander's federal lawsuit said his rights to free speech, to bear arms, to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures and nearly a half-dozen other rights were violated in the raids. It targets individual agents — rather than the agencies involved in the raids — as part of what is called a Biven's action. Much like a civil rights case in state court, the rarely used federal legal measure allows private citizens to sue for damages against federal officials for violating their rights. Kortlander's lawsuit, filed Monday in Montana, could open the floodgates for other complaints from artifact dealers and collectors who were dragged into a sweeping federal investigation into looting and grave robbing in the Four Corners region. It led to felony charges against more than two dozen people in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico in June 2009, but at least seven collectors and dealers who were raided in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona as part of the operation were never charged with a crime. Local officials had complained that federal agents were heavy-handed during the raids. And since then, suicide has claimed the government's informant and two defendants, the prehistoric Indian artifact market has bottomed out, and some collectors fear they will be targeted despite having legal business operations...more

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