“My understanding in the statute reads that we have jurisdiction on any properties owned, used or occupied by Harvard University.” — Harvard Detective, Richard Mederos
The evisceration of boundaries and any observable limits to the power of law is another insight of Kafka’s The Trial. The above statement by the Harvard University police officer investigating the crimes of extortion and death threats, alleged by two subordinates of professor Roy Mottahedeh and maliciously attached to me, appears on page 29 of Mederos’s deposition, that has been videotaped. This was an important admission that turned out to have high legal value in my civil rights law suit against Harvard; it harked back to the question that I had innocently asked Mederos and his friend about “jurisdiction” while in their cruiser on the way to the Harvard police headquarter.
At the time, both men had laughed it off, yet as it turned out, this was no laughing matter and perhaps their sarcasm was a defensive subterfuge since, in fact, this went to the heart of the matter and several years later would constitute one of the central questions posed in my petition to the US Supreme Court: “Whether a facially valid arrest warrant procured by campus police offers as a result of their investigation of a crime not within their jurisdiction is legally tenable?”
I had grounds for some optimism that the justices of the US Supreme Court would look into the pertinent facts of the case and answer a resounding no to the above question. In fact, the empirical evidence was beyond reproach: in addition to Mederos, a number of other members of Harvard University Department of Police, including the chief of police, Francis Riley, who had come on board shortly after my arrest, as well as officer John Rooney, had all admitted that Harvard police did not have the jurisdiction or authority to investigate crimes happening not on Harvard property. And, yet, per own admission in their police report and their deposition testimonies, the crimes of extortion had happened not on Harvard property but rather in the public streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts, at Baybank in Harvard Square.
In fact, when later on, some two years into my law suit against Harvard, I was able to get the hold of the (acting) police commissioner for the City of Cambridge, that is exactly what I would hear from him, in writing: “Cambridge Police has sole jurisdiction for such matters…if there was a crime in the streets of Cambridge which Harvard police got involved initially, the matter should have been reported and handed over to the Cambridge Police.”
The trouble was that the Harvard police did not do so in the case of the crimes in question and treated them as if they had occurred on Harvard property, without ever letting the Cambridge Police get involved, again per the Harvard police report, which indicates that the entire “investigation” and the subsequent request for an arrest warrant to arrest me were conducted solely by Harvard police; they relied on a statute in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that gave special powers to the campus police of Harvard as “special state police officers.”
In a letter I procured from the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office regarding this matter, it is stated that the Harvard University Police “receive deputization” by that office as a “matter of courtesy.” This mere act of courtesy allowed the Harvard campus police to conduct investigation of crimes “on University property.” Attaching that letter to my pleadings, that defeated Harvard’s motions to dismiss my complaint, I brought to the court’s attention the fact that, in light of the Harvard police’s report and admission of “victim” Shobhana Rana, that the two acts of extortion had occurred outside the Baybank at Harvard Square, in effect meant that the arrest warrant issued for my arrest was invalid.
Unfortunately, when the trial judge was giving instructions to the jury, he deliberately failed to give them the instruction on the issue of jurisdiction that I had demanded in my motions. The judge’s failure and his detective jury instruction, who went on to think that just because a magistrate had found sufficient evidence to issue an arrest warrant the warrant was legally viable, would form a point of contention in my appeal.
But that was not all. Even the Cambridge magistrate issuing the warrant had been deceived into thinking that the crimes had occurred on Harvard property, as a result of a major falsification about the date and place of acts of extortion on the criminal complaint. This was yet another reason why Harvard attorneys failed miserably to throw out my complaint short of a trial. With the bar for a jury trial in a civil conspiracy case being rather extremely high, the challenge before me was to convince the court that there were ample reasons to think a foul play on the part of Harvard police, only one of which pertained to their lack of jurisdiction, to investigate the crimes that they had concocted to cause my false arrest. That was, indeed, the irony of that whole affair, that in their total arrogance and complete underestimation of my ability to strike back at them down the road, they had clumsily put in writing in their own police report and the criminal report certain facts that would come to haunt them later on.
In the criminal report, attached as exhibit to my pleadings against their motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, the dates of all offenses including the two acts of extortion were listed as 11/09/95. This was in conflict with the police report as well as Rana’s own testimony and her chronology, that gave other dates for the extortions. By pretending that all the crimes had occurred in one day and mistakenly referring to Alavi (Mottahedeh’s alter-ego) as a “Harvard professor,” the complaint and the accompanying police report gave the misleading impression that, indeed, this was a crime that had happened on Harvard property, thus taking care of any potential trouble with the magistrate issuing an arrest warrant, who otherwise may have thought twice about “probable cause” for issuing it and thus allowing the Harvard police to invade my home at 5 a.m., a few weeks later.
In their memorandum of law, the Harvard defendants had argued that the issued warrant was “legally valid” and therefore there was no false arrest of Afrasiabi due to the warrant.
After all, they argued, a magistrate had found sufficient evidence to issue the warrant on 11/16/95 (i.e., a mere week after the extortion per the criminal complaint). Of course, in his deposition, Mederos would state that the dates for the extortion were “not correct.” However, I was able to “impeach” their facts and dispute their underlying legal argument, as a result of which Mederos’s motion to dismiss was defeated.
The legal research on this issue alone would prove arduous and time-consuming. Without access to law online, which required quite a sum of money by my standards at the time, I had to do it the old fashion way, by browsing through the shelves at Boston College law library and going through literally hundreds of books, just to find the right “authorities,” that is, relevant case laws that supported my argument that the mere issuance of the arrest warrant did not give automatic immunity to the police officer procuring it; the other argument was that the “warrant application” was “lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence unreasonable,” per the court’s finding in the case of Mally versus Briggs (1986). In Mally, there is one particular sentence that I subsequently read at the hearing on motion to dismiss: “Probable cause determination by independent judicial officers do not insulate enforcement officers from Section 1983 liability if the law enforcement officers deceived the issuing magistrates.” Section 1983 refers to civil conspiracy action. Moreover, relying on multiple other cases, e.g., United States versus Leon (1984), I demonstrated “evidence of bad faith motivation in procuring warrant,” one being the total exclusion of any other suspect, misrepresenting me in their police report, misidentifying the “victims,” and so on.
That particular day, in late 1996, I had gone completely armed with the arsenal of law. When the defense attorney raised some objections to my argument by emphasizing the magistrate’s determination of probable cause to issue the warrant, I fought back by citing several federal and state cases that undermined their objection. For instance, by showing the ‘Alice-in-Wonderland’ and “fanciful” nature of Rana’s crime story, detailed in the previous chapter, I cited the judges’ opinion in Leon that “no officer of reasonable competence would have requested the warrant.” Defeating an officer’s claim of judicial immunity is never easy and I cited a 1993 opinion in Buckley versus Fitzsimmons that put the focus “on the conduct for which immunity is claimed, not on the question whether it was lawful.” In Manetta versus County of Macomb (1997), the court had found that “issuance of arrest warrant did not render actions of state detective reasonable in arresting arrestee for commission of extortion, and so did not provide immunity in Section 1983 action.” Also, I found some relevant precedence in the State of Massachusetts.
A pertinent case was Britton versus Maloney (1995), where the court had found Boston police guilty of “fabricating felony charges.” Clearly, I was not the first Massachusetts resident who had been subjected to fabricated charges. Still, as far as I was concerned at that specific hearing, the fact that Harvard attorneys had not carried the burden of proving that the alleged crimes were not “fanciful” and that the judge had been convinced by my argument that there was sufficient evidence of “deceptive representation” by Mederos to the magistrate who issued the arrest warrant meant that I had won a small victory, in a long legal warfare.
“I had a good day yesterday,” I said to the guy who checked identification cards at the entrance to the Boston College Law Library; after so many visits and long hours, sometimes from opening hours until closing times, we had become friends of sorts and I was eternally grateful to him that he did not give me a hard time and allowed me in because I was an attorney. “Congratulations attorney.”
Of course I was a different kind of attorney, a prose, a new species of being that was nominally afforded all the rights and privileges of a licensed attorney in court and, as it turned out, without much credibility or weight in the eyes of the law that had graned me the ability to represent myself; pro se, my new identity for the period spanning from Fall 1996 until Spring 2003.
“Hey amigo, time to go, wake up.” More than once, that man, older and with his fatherly voice, would find my dosing off on the books in a quiet corner, usually in the basement floor. In Winter months, especially in the dead of Winter when it would get brutally cold, having sold my car that meant a long shivering walk to my new abode, up a hill in Newton Center, at Andover-Newton Theological School; in addition to forcing on me the life of a legal apprentice, the ordeal of my false arrest had also introduced a new chapter that in some ways I was rather familiar with, back to school, this after losing my teaching position, except that this time the subject was rather novel to me: Christianity. Unlike in the past, however, my new education was mainly superimposed on me — as a survival strategy in a hostile climate that had pounded every facet of my existence like a ferocious hurricane. So brittle was the state of my being that I constantly felt on the brink of extinction, with my job lost, my future prospects down the drain, and my family life in tatters after my wife, Sylvia decided to move into her mother’s home in nearby Needham, after we were served the eviction notice.
Innocently I had thought that we could all move in to her mom’s, but that was not to be and seeing that I was on a singular mission to set right the egregious wrong perpetrated on us, Sylvia told me straight one day that for our child’s sake it would be better if for now I would find somewhere else. “Look at you. You’re still a ball of fire and you can’t let go of it and I can’t live with you under these circumstances.” She was right, I needed to calm down and assuage my anger and frustration, but how could I? Those monsters at Harvard had delivered deadly blows to my career, had defamed me, and were conveniently ex-communicating me in the academic circles, and was I just to sit and watch them succeed in their evil plans against me? We argued a few times and every time Syvlia reminded me how powerful my Harvard enemies were, I told her that the fact that I was free was itself a good indication that their power was not absolute.
Survival by mobilization of resources
“Power from the periphery.” That was I believe a line from one of the books of one of my professors at Boston University, Frances Fox Piven, who taught graduate courses in social movements. That meant that I had to apply Piven’s insights about “social mobilization” to defend my repressed rights from the very outset, beginning with family and friends, especially in the academia, who would come to the various hearings and make an impression on the judges. Fortunately, over the years by virtue of teaching at a number of colleges and universities in the area, I had accumulated enough friends who would know me and trust me and would not hesitate in canceling their classes for the sake of sympathy appearance in court, even if that meant just sitting and watching patiently,including: John Ambacher, who taught political science at Framingham State College, and whose kids played with my kid; Rene Le Blanc and Bill Barklow, both biology professors at Framingham State, and Mark Seiden, a professor of English, who was also a poet and would spend time in his visits to my jail to make comments on my poems. He particularly liked this one, written on day six of my confinement:
Shocked still by day’s agony,
I accepted jail like a temporary and unexpected glory;
I saw a man who sold hashish to his nephew; no one
Questioned why he didn’t give the nephew a discount;
And I also saw a man who stole lawn motors for
His wife’s collection, she was trying to determine
How far he would go to appease her.
Their clarity prompted me to relax, be ordinary,
Evolution is the way of prison.
But at night the sheet was soaked with the sweat
Of my free-floating fear that no fan
Could blow away. Confidence gone again,
And the jittery wait for kitchen labor at dawn,
And I froze to a shell-of-a-man
For hours on end.
Poetry is always a good respite from a Kafkasque seriousness, although I had another that reflected my more defiant mood:
My thoughts drift to the court underneath and
The rays of injustice peeking through their forest of history;
Their press-gang has sent me out to sea.
Such absurdities must be disproved by the
Words of justice itself.
Sylvia and and I are a glass apart,
Learning how to speak in sign language; and
I have plans to wipe her tears away.
My feet play gypsy on the floor
When she tells me about our little one
Crawling out of her crib:
The flowers linger late though Spring’s undone.
To wrestle with such sweet bitterness of mind.
And then were the twin pillars of my support: Boston University professors Murray Levin and Howard Zinn. Both men were my doctoral dissertation advisors and generously gave of their precious time by coming to the initial bail hearing and sitting at the front isle facing the judge, who at one point recognized Zinn and said “nice to see you here professor Zinn.” A towering figure in the US peace movement, Zinn’s appearance on my behalf that particular day may have saved my skin and, who knows, in his absence, the judge may have opted to appease Harvard by refusing to let me out on a bail, but after much hesitation, and irrespective of all the shenanigan by the DA and detective Mederos, at the end he did not and said, “well, he has no record and the victim has not recognized him, so I fail to see how we can keep him in jail, especially since he is a college professor.”
Mobibilization from the periphery also meant the appearance of distinguished Iranian Zoroastrian professor of political economy at Boston University, Dr. Farhang Mehr, who gave me a kind fatherly look when I entered that court room that day. Sitting next to my sisters Nikoo and Ladan, who had flown from California, Dr. Mehr and I had last met at his home at a fundraiser for Lisle Baker running for elections in Newton, as discussed in the second chapter, and afterward he would joke that if Lisle had won and had recruited me none of this would happen.
Equally important in our defense strategy was the presence of some reporters, thanks to the efforts of Mike Wallace, who knew that the more media scrutiny the less chances that the other side would want to press ahead with their treachery. But, as right as Wallace about his prediction that the matter would not proceed to trial, since they had the “onerous chore” of proving a credible crime, let alone establishing my guilt, nonetheless both Wallace and even my attorney Birch had underestimated the extent of short and long-term damage to me inflicted by the false arrest, the fact that Mottahedeh and company’s main purpose was to finish me off academically by spreading over my head the poisonous cloud of controversy caused by the highly-trumpeted false arrest. Of course, none of them would be thrilled by the impressive show of support for me by so many American academics as well as professor Mehr, or the media’s unexpectedly intense interest in that particular case.
Regarding the latter, my friend at BBC’s The World, Philip Martin, had something to do with it, as he went to the Center For Middle East Studies a few time while I was in jail and try to speak with Mottahedeh and others, but would find them all “tight-lipped and unwilling to say a word.” Per Birch’s defense strategy of “go to the sources” who stayed in the background, from the outset we had focused our attention on Mottahedeh, who directed the “victims” at the Center and was now basking in the comfort of seeing a man who had just a short while earlier threatened a law suit through his attorney suffer in jail because his subordinates had cried victim via a poorly-scripted crime story. Too bad for him, he was not able to get all his wishes granted and no matter how detective Mederos tried, through a false confession and other lies, the judge did not budge and refused to keep in jail for what would have been a minimum six months longer. Of course, as previously stated, Mottahdeh would disguise that defeat as an act of mercy, by adding salt to the injury of false arrest through another big lie, that he let go and let me off the hook because of “pity.” But, the fact was that those Kafkasque characters had no pity whatsoever and had pressed as hard as possible to keep me behind the bars and had failed simply because of our ability to marshal our forces “from the periphery” with a little helping hands by Mike Wallace at CBS.
“Move on Kaveh. There is no winning against Harvard, simple as that.” Professor Zinn more than once advised me and I would agree only to find out that my unconscionable adversaries at Harvard had practically closed nearly all doors to me and there was no where to move forward to, as I had been severely blackballed in the academia. So, I ended moving backward, back to school, as a student again. After all, the Boston Globe had just demoted me from professor to student in their report of my exoneration from the extortion charges, may be they had a premonition that my days as educator was over and I had to be educated again, learning another trade, picking up another profession other than teaching, may be preaching instead. Indeed, that’s how it would turn out, as I would soon enroll as graduate student at a theology college, again mainly as a survival strategy and less because I had a sudden new interest in the study of religion. But, in retrospect, the latter was not altogether absent, as I had received a tiny dosage of education on Christianity in my brief stay in jail — by attending a bible study group led by our affable African-American cook, Mel.
Theology in jail
Mel the “master chef” directed my work when I was assigned the daily chore of unremitted, menial work at the kitchen one floor down. Threading the staircase from my cell to the kitchen proved rather hazardous a couple of times, when this or that guard would “accidentally” bump into me and in one case even push me down, so I decided not to go down there alone if I could help it, but rather with other inmates also assigned to the same chore, some six or seven of them, mostly post-juvenile youth, always greeted by Mel with a broad friendly “good morning you all.’
From the first instance, by his aura I knew that Mel ran the kitchen like a fiefdom; his look was perpetually gloomy but his mood was persistently bright. Mel began instructing us about his ‘golden rule”: “You guys just do exactly as I ask, I take care of you, you hear? Everything has to be spotless when you come in and when you leave, understood?”
Mel as a repeat drug pusher serving serious time, and he was also that jail’s self-designated priest heading a Bible study group. “The meek shall inherit the earth,” a bumper sticker posted on the refrigerator in ‘his kitchen’ read.
My assignments were washing the mounds of pots and pans and brewing the coffee. Learning that I was “born a Muslim,” Mel studied my face for a moment before deciding to concentrate on the other new-comers. “Faith is all you got in a sinful mother fucker place like this,” I heard him say to the kids laboring in the dining (chow) hall; they all seemed resigned to playing the part.
”You gotta join the Bible study or he’ll find an excuse to get rid of you, that’s the price,” one of the guys whispered to me on the way back to the cell that first day. “But once you join, no on dares to touch you.”
”Servants of servants,” I had suddenly become, a thought that gave me chills. There were a lot of unwritten rules in that place and, obviously, Mel’s case showed that not all came from the top Chances were he was making exceptions for Muslims, perhaps finding us a lost cause. I was wrong. Right before lunch, when I was crushing some ice, Mel approached me and after a joke about the perspiration rolling down my face spoke with precise words when inviting me to join “to learn the way of Christ.” I reflected for a moment and then answered simply, “Sure, I’ll visit your convent.” He thought it made me more inclined by telling me that in his eyes “Mohammad is a saint.”
At precisely 2:30, when we were done with the lunch chore, I joined for an hour or so a small gathering of mostly African-American inmates in Mel’s cell. I was impressed by a dozen or so books in the cell and borrowed a couple of them: Harriet Tubman’s A Moses of Her People; A Black Theology of Liberation; Psalms: Reading and Studying the Book of Praises, and DuBois’ The Negro American Family.
”I get these from a theology teacher who spent some time here for screwing his female students,” Mel told me. In his silvery Christmas box of letters several were from the former theologian who had turned into a taxi driver. I once asked Mel if he had read any of those books and he immediately showed me his extensive notes and question marks on the margins of the books to prove that he had. “Most of these Negro writers don’t know jack shit how to write for the masses brother. That’s why I just keep a line of communication with that teacher.”
One particular day, our group was reading, discussing, and interpreting St. John’s Epistle to the Romans, and Mel know exactly how to incorporate his reality into the biblical stories – by resorting to one of the letters of the delinquent theologian. After the session was over, I asked if I could read the letter and to my surprise Mel gave it to me and said I could keep it. It read in main:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a high school with students rich and poor, diligent and lazy, of many races and religions. The teacher gives the final exam, then announces, “All of you have failed. But I will leave the room and you may grade each other. No Sooner has the teacher left when conflict erupts. The diligent will not pass the lazy; the rich pass each other and ignore the poor; some insist that each race should pass only its own. Some remember the words of the teacher and say, “We have all already flunked. We shall pass anyone with no distinction at all. Then we can be certain of our own forgiveness.”
That day, as Mel was reading the letter to us, I was beginning to understand why the prison system had given him so many privileges – he was the only inmate allowed to roam free between the three floors, and who had a two-men cell all to himself. Mel taught the lesson of forgiveness and moral rehabilitation and that seemed most urgently needed there. Invariably Mel emphasized the “love your enemies” doctrine and when someone reminded him that this is a two-way street, he admitted that they need to do their part. He asked me what I would do if my accusers called and apologized, and I replied, “I would probably forgive them, but my wife may not.”
Our small Bible circle was both educational and healing, and I attended mostly just as a quiet listener, using the opportunity to distract myself by deepening my knowledge of Christianity. Somehow it turned out to be more than that, dishing out the “faith issue” on my lap; my adult secularism influenced by years of reading Marx, Freud, and other apostles of atheism, was all of a sudden on the verge of ticking over. The little exposure to Mel and his friends was triggering a great deal of interest in me, which was why I sort of indulged in their “god-talk” while mopping the floor, cleaning the bathrooms, washing the dishes, preparing food and even when serving inmates as they lined up in single files; the torment of my chore was much dissipated by the theological endeavor of those conversations.
”I have become an emptiness inlaid with a symphony of cacophonous utterances,” I wrote to myself in the notebook I purchased a the “store” next to the kitchen. “Man is not so much a rational species as a rationalizing species. Is the aim of life really to realize the Divine within one’s self?”
In revisiting what I had written those days, I realize that I had decided that I was trying to transcend the moment without repudiating who I was. Guarding this I, my own words no longer served the selfhood that they formerly served, no longer transparently communicative of the Identity “I” thought I possessed; denuding of the function of representing me, my words were self-altering, pirating me to a murky island of clouds. Mel once caught a flash of my well-disguised despair when I cut myself doing the onions and bled slightly, lost as I was in the all-absorbing inner tumult over the dark episode engulfing my life. “You’ve got to calm down brother. Just remember what the prophet Job said, “Naked I have come, and naked shall I return.”
That was in fact Mel’s favorite Bible line he kept repeating. “Religion is the best power of the weak brother, makes oppression, racism, and pain into something constructive,” he counseled me, relishing that I was lending rather serious ears to his constant evangelizing. “You see those perverts. If they had faith, none of them would be here.”
He was pointing at the ‘idolators,’ the two to three dozen “untouchable misfits” in the notorious D Block that housed the sex offenders; they invariably ate first and included some very ordinary-looking white middle classes faces as well as some obvious nut cases who were in permanent state of (semi) arousal.
”If as you say this place is for the unfaithful, then why are you here – brother?” I ventured to ask Mel. “Well, I’ve got two answers for you. First, this is part of my vocation in my spiritual journey. You know what Jesus said to Peter” Feed the sheep.” Mel paused and after I asked, “so what is the second?” admitted that he was plain born to disobey authority, as usual inserting a line or two from Bible. “Don’t forget Adam and Eve story. Human story, sin, started that way.” Here was a man that professor Zinn would love to meet, I said to myself instantly. “You’d make a good guest lecturer in my class.” “Sure, but you have to wait for a few years brother.” We both laughed. Our friendship was beginning to play out a subterranean empathy too scant by the prison system, particularly after I proved my cooking worth by using my memory of Mario’s cooking at Abruze’s in Newton Center and made a decent marinara for their meatball and spaghetti. To amuse them I would tell them of my observations in the Iranian revolution, or the Summer when I visited the war front in mid-1980s and saw more than a fair share of torn bodies, decimated landscape, and fervent battle of tanks and soldiers. I also recited from my recently self-published aphorisms on love and poetry. “The purpose of poetry throughout the ages brother has been to uplift our soul for a while and then leave us on the ground.”