Washburn grad recounts wrongful imprisonment

Washburn grad recounts wrongful imprisonment


The specific year holds a double meaning for Oregon lawyer and Kansas native Brandon Mayfield. It was the time of his own high school graduation, where he made the decision to join the Army. However, after suffering through the false accusations of involvement in the Madrid train bombings of March 2004 and being jailed for two weeks as a result, “1984” is used by Mayfield to describe the characteristic George Orwell environment that he believes exists in present-day America.

“We’re living in a country where our government has 24-hour surveillance of our every move,” said Mayfield. “We’ve been living under lies for so long that we’ve forgotten what freedom actually is.”

On Feb. 27-28 the Washburn School of Law graduate revisited the Washburn campus to share his story with the students, faculty and the general public. While his topics of discussion ranged from “Liberty and Security” and “Fingerprints and the Fourth Amendment,” they all centered on Mayfield’s traumatic experience with the U.S. government and the FBI.

An Islam convert, Mayfield’s story received worldwide notoriety. According to an FBI statement at the time, his fingerprint was identified as being on a blue plastic bag containing detonators found in a van used by the bombers responsible for the bombing of four commuter trains in Madrid, Spain.

However, problems arose when the FBI sent Mayfield’s prints to the authorities in Spain. Spanish authorities disputed the FBI’s fingerprint match from Mayfield to those associated with the Madrid bombings.

Several days later he was released from jail beacuse of the falsity of the fingerprints.

“I had never even been to Spain,” said Mayfield. “In fact, at the time my passport was expired and I hadn’t travelled outside of the U.S. in almost 10 years.”

As a Muslim, he believed that the FBI has religiously targeted him. He also shared suspicions with his wife that the FBI had been following and monitoring their family prior to the Madrid, Spain bombing that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800.

“After the bombing in April of 2004, we started seeing tell-tale signs that somebody had been in our house that had burglarized our home,” said Mayfield. “We would lock the bottom lock and not bolt it and upon coming home we would find the bolt locked. We discovered that blinds that were left closed would be partially open and there were shoe prints on our freshly-vacuumed carpet, even though we as a family never wore shoes in the home.”

Mayfield and his wife thought that this was their unofficial contact with the FBI, and the incidents created a great deal of paranoia, fear and suspicion even before his arrest in May of that same year.

During his presentations at Washburn he spoke candidly about the “horrific and dark” two-week period he spent in the Multnomah County Detention Center in maximum security, sometimes shackled and chained. Upon his release Mayfield filed a lawsuit against the FBI for the invasion of his privacy and violation of his civil rights.

“I’ve been targeted primarily because I’ve been an outspoken critic of this administration and [for] doing my job to defend others who can’t defend themselves, to give them their day in court, and mostly for being a Muslim,” said Mayfield. “The days and weeks and months following my arrest were some of the hardest and darkest that I and my family have ever had to endure. It’s all because of this government’s ill-conceived war on terror, and what I really want is for this not to happen to anyone else.”

On Nov. 29, 2006, the U.S. government gave Mayfield a $2 million settlement as part of the lawsuit and also issued a formal apology. Mayfield’s settlement also included an agreement made by the government to destroy communications intercepts conducted by the FBI against Mayfield’s home and office during the investigation.

“The U.S. Attorney General wanted to apologize to me personally, but then I found out that there were strings attached and that in order to get this personal apology I would have to admit that there was no religious profiling involved in my arrest,” said Mayfield. “I refused to do so.”

Around the same time as the settlement and formal apology, the Justice Department released a statement saying that Mayfield was never targeted because of his Muslim faith and that the FBI had taken steps to improve its fingerprint identification process “to ensure that what happened to Mr. Mayfield does not happen again.”

Mayfield expressed that the suit was not about money but more about regaining his civil liberties. He plans to use the money to fund his continued piece of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Patriot Act.

“We need to go back to a time when there was a balance between privacy and security in America,” said Mayfield. “Probable cause was good for 200 years and there is no reason to change it all now.”