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Officer says Charlottean on terrorist watch list - released on $2,500 bond

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Police arrested a Charlotte activist Sunday for a traffic violation and sought to keep him in jail during the Democratic National Convention because an officer said he is an activist on a terrorist watch list, court documents show.

Chief District Judge Lisa Bell on Monday reduced the bond for James Ian Tyson, 27, from $10,000 – an unusually high amount for driving while license revoked – to $2,500.

He was released at about 8 p.m. Monday.

Tyson’s attorney, Derek Fletcher, said during a hearing Monday that officers wanted to keep Tyson in jail to restrict his speech, and that his $10,000 cash bond was excessive.

“The state wanted to keep my client in jail during the DNC so he couldn’t help organize any protests,” Fletcher told the Observer. “I informed the judge it appeared to me that the state was trying to suppress my client from exercising his rights to speak during the DNC.”

After he was released from jail, Tyson read a statement, saying his arrest was politically motivated.

“I have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. I am a local Charlottean and an activist and I believe this is an attempt to stifle my First Amendment rights and keep my voice from being heard,” he said. “At this point I would like to go home and visit my parents and play with my dog. That’s all I want to do.”

Bell said she had initially approved the $10,000 bond “based on the alarming information” the magistrate received when Tyson was arrested.

But at Tyson’s first appearance hearing, Bell said “no additional information was presented, and I felt his appearance in court could be secured and the community protected with of reduction of the bond.”

Bell said her decision to reduce the bond was influenced by Tyson’s lack of a significant record and his longtime ties to the community.

Police records show Tyson was arrested at 9:50 p.m. Sunday on North Caldwell Street, about one block from a building used by organizers to plan for demonstrations this week. Earlier Sunday, the Coalition to March on Wall Street South held a march that drew about 800 protesters through uptown.

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer requested that Tyson be held in jail because of the Democratic National Convention, which runs through Thursday. The officer recommended that Tyson not get out of jail on pretrial release, according to a court document.

“Why do you feel suspect is a risk?” the law enforcement information sheet asked.

“Known activist + protester who is currently on a terrorist watchlist,” the officer wrote. “Request he be held due to DNC being a National Special Security Event.”

Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray told the Observer Monday that he is aware of the document that says Tyson is on a terrorist watch list. Prior to the hearing, he said his prosecutors would try to keep Tyson’s bond at $10,000 in hopes of keeping him behind bars.

“That court document heightens our concern for public safety,” Murray said. “Our goal is to protect the public. The document causes us to have concerns for public safety.”

Michael Zytkow, an Occupy Charlotte organizer, confirmed that Tyson is a Charlotte activist. Tyson, a volunteer with the Rainforest Action Network, has spoken at Occupy Charlotte events, according to the group’s website.

“Jimmy’s a good friend of all activists in the Charlotte area, and definitely not a threat,” Zytkow said. He called any allegations that Tyson is a security risk or should be on a watch list “absurd.”

North Carolina criminal records show Tyson was found guilty of fishing trout water in closed season in 2007 and fined $145. Last May, he pleaded guilty to driving while impaired. Tyson was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation and paid $293 in fines and court costs.

Mecklenburg County’s suggested range for bond for driving with a revoked license is $100 to $2,500, county documents show. Jail records show other drivers arrested Sunday for the same charge had much lower bonds, ranging from $350 to $500.

Tyson’s Facebook profile says he graduated from Warren Wilson College, in Swannanoa, in 2007, with a degree in environmental studies and environmental chemistry. He graduated from Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte in 2003. He lists his occupation as a self-employed farmer and carpenter: “Remodeling homes and building an organic veggie farm.”

The Rainforest Action Network is 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 meeting of shareholders. Five members of the group were arrested. Tyson was not among them.

There were under 400,000 individuals on the government’s consolidated terrorist watch list in 2011, according to the federal government.

A 2009 audit found that the FBI’s terrorist watch list had a high error rate, with some subjects wrongly kept on the roster and many others kept on the list too long.

The audit, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General, found that in 8 percent of closed cases reviewed, the FBI failed to remove subjects from the watch list as required by the agency’s policy. In many more cases, the auditors found, the FBI failed to remove the subjects in a timely manner.

Staff writers Ames Alexander,Fred Clasen-Kelly, Bruce Henderson, Gavin Off and staff researcher Maria David contributed.

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