Lawyer unjustly jailed working toward normal
- David Holley Pamplin Media Group
- Portland Tribune - News
Brandon Mayfield says he's proud that he challenged Patriot Act
In many ways, Brandon Mayfield has cleaned his slate since he was arrested by the FBI at his Beaverton law office and falsely accused of participating in a train bombing in Madrid nearly five years ago.
Mayfield owns a new home in Beaverton and has opened a new Beaverton law office, which is finally getting back on track, thanks to the help of friends.
But the unwanted fame he gained from his 2004 arrest still haunts him. People occasionally recognize him on the street, and his ongoing litigation with the United States government garners periodic calls from reporters.
'When you guys stop calling me, I'll feel normal,' Mayfield, 42, said in a phone interview late last month.
In the fall of 2006, the federal government paid Mayfield $2 million, and the FBI apologized, for detaining him for 14 days, wiretapping his phones, searching his home when he wasn't there and using faulty fingerprint identification to try to tie him to the train bombings.
In a 2007 federal court ruling, a judge made a decision that Mayfield believes was bigger: that the USA Patriot Act, approved by Congress after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, violated the Fourth Amendment by allowing the government to wiretap his phones.
The federal government has since appealed that decision, and Mayfield's Portland-based attorney, Elden Rosenthal, argued in front of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Feb. 5.
'I'm hopeful that as we put some distance between ourselves and 9/11, and with the new (presidential) administration, we'll see a new attitude to the importance of citizens' civil liberties,' Rosenthal said.
Although Mayfield said he is no longer angry at the government for what happened, he said the Patriot Act must be changed.
'I'm not really bitter. I'm happy in some ways - the fact that we could challenge the Patriot Act,' Mayfield said. 'There has to be some oversight for executive authority.'
Mayfield said he gave fleeting thought to leaving the country but decided that leaving the United States, or even leaving the Beaverton area - where he has lived off and on since 1989 - would solve nothing.
'When you leave, you don't really want to leave under duress,' Mayfield said. 'Anytime you run from a problem, you're likely to encounter more . . . It seemed like, it's better to resolve them.'
That doesn't mean there haven't been lasting marks. Although Mayfield said he did not want to discuss his family, he said his three children have been resilient.
'We've all suffered in ways that you don't really think of,' he said.
It took help from fellow attorneys, who often referred clients to Mayfield, to get his law firm back on its feet. Before his arrest, a large portion of time went to working on immigration cases. He has fewer of those clients these days.
'I think some of them were wary because they thought the government continued to look at files, and listened to conversations that were privileged,' Mayfield said.
It will likely take three to six months for the federal appeals court to make a decision on the government's appeal. If the government loses the appeal, the case could be dropped or appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
'It never should have been passed in the first place,' Mayfield said of the Patriot Act. 'It was adopted out of fear.'
Mayfield is closely following litigation between the government and a now-defunct Islamic-based charity in Ashland whose attorneys believe they were wiretapped without warrant by the government. A convert to Islam, Mayfield frequently expressed in 2006, after the settlement, that he believed his arrest was based on his religion.
The FBI was certain that a fingerprint discovered by Spanish police after the Madrid bombing was Mayfield's, even though the Spanish weren't convinced. The FBI was telling Mayfield that they had enough to charge him, but not enough to convict him.
He said they were threatening him with prosecution and the death penalty. But then Spanish police made an arrest.
'If it wasn't for the Spanish police getting the other guy - it was a fortunate break,' Mayfield said. 'It was almost like a miracle, to tell you the truth. There was nothing going in my favor.'
Since then, FBI officials have said they would examine the way they process fingerprints. Mayfield's case is referenced in countless scientific, political and social journals.
Mayfield said his victory in 2006 helped reaffirm his faith in the American judicial system. But he said it has been hard to get over the daunting, monolithic force he faced in the government.
'For the longest time, it felt really negative. I felt very hammered,' Mayfield said. 'I felt very beat down by the government. The government can bring a lot of pressure.'
A self-described private person, Mayfield said what surprises him the most about the repercussions of this case is the people who have come up to him on the street.
'Right after this happened, people were saying, 'I'm sorry.' They were saying, 'I just feel responsible. We let the government do this.' I was thinking, 'I don't blame you,' ' Mayfield said.
For the most part, Mayfield said his family has dealt well with being in the spotlight - but said he is happy to regain privacy in his life.
'It took a long time before things felt normal again,' he said. 'It seems close to being normal.'