Judge finds Hindi innocent of eavesdropping charges

September 7, 2000

Kane County Chronicle (IL)


ST. CHARLES – Animal activist Steve Hindi is innocent of felony eavesdropping because he told police he was taping them "seconds" into the conversation, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Hindi was charged after he taped conversations with police officers July 17, 1999, at the Kane County Fair. Hindi talked to police about allegations of animal cruelty at the rodeo event.

In making his ruling, Kane County Circuit Court Judge James Doyle said he was not looking at side issues, but the fact that seconds into his conversation with St. Charles Police Officer Lori Kessler, Hindi made it clear he was taping the conversation.

Doyle also invoked George W. Bush's Labor Day faux pas in front of a live microphone. Bush used an expletive to describe a reporter he didn't like to vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney while campaigning at Naperville North High School.

Doyle noted the Texas governor thought the mike was off. Bush had no "expectation of privacy…when he leaned over and made that statement," Doyle said. "He was not warned the tape was running. No one is trying to charge the media" with violating the state's eavesdropping statute in that case.

Likewise, Doyle noted state's attorney candidate Meg Gorecki's political – and possibly legal – problems with a message she left on an answering machine.

"Police had a briefing on Steve Hindi, to keep an eye out for him as an animal rights activist on the edge of extremism," Doyle said. "Police knew he might have a tape recorder with him. Everybody understood to expect (him to have) a recording device with him. That was not a surprise to anybody."

Hindi's statements on the tape made it clear he was "genuinely concerned with following the law," Doyle said, based on Hindi's questioning of flash photography going on while signs state it was not allowed. "It was his concern and his colleagues' concern to "follow the law."

Doyle did not rule on Hindi's lawyer's assertions that his client was the victim of selective enforcement by police and the Kane County State's Attorney's Office, or that police in uniform in a public place have no expectation of privacy.

"I'm delighted with the verdict," said Hindi's lawyer Rick Halprin. Assistant State's Attorney Greg Sams declined to comment.

Hindi said win or lose, he would have continued to protest animal abuse. But winning, he said, definitely would bolster the group's efforts.

As to whether he would use a pocket tape recorder in documenting future conversations with police, Hindi said he would have to research the issue further.

"Our method of protest is always to document police," Hindi said. "Our choice is to use a video camera because you can see the posture." He noted that St. Charles Police Sgt. Brad Griffin would not talk to him at the fair until he turned the tape recorder off. "Any police unwilling to be taped during their duties shouldn't be cops," Hindi said.

Hindi criticized St. Charles Police for bringing the charges against him and the state's attorney for prosecuting him – instead of filing animal cruelty charges against the rodeo. "The real guilty parties here are the Kane County Fair Association, the rodeo, St. Charles Police, the state's attorney's office and the Kane County Board," he said.

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