Postal Service Caught Seizing Packages Without Warrant
In the spring of 2020, law enforcement agents working for the United States Postal Service violated that fundamental constitutional guarantee when they baselessly stopped, seized, and searched a set of four ordinary boxes containing thousands of Covid-19 face masks.
The masks belonged to René Quiñonez, who operates Oakland-based Movement Ink LLC, a small, family-run, social justice-focused screen-printing company. Following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, organizers hired Movement Ink to rapidly print as many face masks as possible to distribute to protestors marching across the country. René, his family, employees, and friends worked night and day to hand-print each mask with political messages like “Stop Killing Black People.” When they finished, René packed the masks in ordinary brown boxes and shipped them overnight to organizers in Brooklyn, D.C., Minneapolis, and St. Louis.
But they didn’t arrive. Instead, he and his clients were greeted by a disturbing “Alert” on the Postal Service website: “Seized by Law Enforcement.” René panicked. After all, he hadn’t done anything wrong. He knew face masks were not illegal; in fact, at the time, they were required by law.
After René contacted his Congresswoman and went to the press, the real story came out. Claiming the completely ordinary boxes were somehow suspicious, the agents seized and searched them without ever getting a warrant, let alone having the probable cause necessary to obtain one.
As a result of this unconstitutional conduct, the masks arrived at their destinations multiple days (and several protests) late. This cast a pall of suspicion over René and Movement Ink. Some of René’s longstanding clients dropped him, and the organizers backed out of plans for future recurring apparel orders. To this day, Movement Ink is struggling to recover from these blows to its reputation and business.
But René is not one to take an assault on his constitutional rights lying down. On June 2, 2022, René and Movement Ink partnered with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of California to hold the officers who baselessly seized and searched his mail accountable for violating his rights.
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