Justice Dept. To Investigate Case of Detainment over Fingerprint Mistake

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department's watchdog office has opened an investigation into the arrest of an Oregon lawyer that was based on what turned out to be faulty FBI analysis of a fingerprint linked to the deadly terrorist attack in Spain last March.

Glenn A. Fine, the department's inspector general, said the antiterrorism Patriot Act may have been improperly used in the arrest of attorney Brandon Mayfield.

Mayfield, a Muslim convert, was arrested May 6 on a material witness warrant after an FBI analysis concluded he was a match for a fingerprint found on a bag containing detonators like those used in the attacks on trains in Madrid that killed nearly 200 people and wounded 2,000.

A few weeks later, Mayfield was released after the FBI admitted it had made a mistake and that the fingerprint did not match Mayfield's.

The inspector general's investigation was disclosed in a twice-a-year report to Congress on potential civil rights and civil liberties abuses by Justice Department officials. A copy of the report was obtained by The Associated Press on Monday, a day ahead of its scheduled public release.

The Mayfield investigation is focusing on how the fingerprint error was made and also on a complaint by Mayfield that the "FBI inappropriately conducted a surreptitious search of his home ... potentially motivated by his Muslim faith and ties to the Muslim community," according to Fine's report.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility also is investigating the actions of prosecutors in the Mayfield case.

The Patriot Act, passed a few weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, includes a provision authorizing the inspector general to review any complaints about civil liberties and civil rights abuses involving Justice Department personnel. The latest report covers the period between Dec. 16, 2003, and June 21, 2004.

During that time, the inspector general received 1,613 such complaints, the vast majority of which did not require investigation.

Nearly 1,000 of the complaints did not involve a Justice Department employee or included farfetched claims, such as that the government was interfering with a person's thoughts or pumping poisonous gas into someone's home. Another 410 complaints were outside the inspector general's jurisdiction, including claims of improper prison medical care and inadequate library facilities.

Of the remaining 208 complaints, only 13 were determined to warrant further review, including the Mayfield case.

Another case that prompted an investigation involves allegations by four people of Arab descent who say they were improperly detained by the FBI while trying to enter the United States. They were allegedly handcuffed, taken to an FBI office for questioning and "subjected to unnecessary humiliation," the report said.