FBI's 'person of interest' loses traffic ticket appeal

Saturday, August 16, 2003

WASHINGTON -- An attorney for the bioterrorism expert identified as a "person of interest" in the investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks lashed out at the FBI Friday for its round-the-clock surveillance of his client.

The scientist, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, appeared at a traffic court hearing to contest a $5 ticket stemming from an accident involving a federal agent who was tailing him. Hatfill lost the case and will have to pay the fine.

Hatfill declined to comment afterward, but his attorney, Thomas Connolly, told reporters the ticket was the result of the "unrelenting campaign of harassment the FBI has imposed on Steven Hatfill day in and day out."

Connolly said his client is being badgered by the agency for "no legitimate reason."

FBI spokeswoman Debbie Weierman declined to comment.

The accident occurred May 17 as Hatfill ran errands with his girlfriend.

He noticed he was being followed by a green sport utility vehicle, parked his car in Washington's busy Georgetown neighborhood and got out to take photos of the SUV.

Connolly said Hatfill wanted pictures to document the harassment.

Hatfill was struck and knocked down as the SUV drove off, according to the police report. Hatfill suffered a bruised foot and abrasions. He did not seek hospital treatment and refused attention from paramedics at the scene.

The police officer who testified at the hearing said he didn't see the accident, but viewed videotape footage taken by the FBI agent driving the SUV. After that, Officer Clyde Pringle said he decided to give Hatfill a ticket for "walking to create a hazard."

At the hearing, Pringle said Hatfill would not have been hit if he had stayed on the sidewalk, instead of getting in the street to snap the photos.

The hearing examiner upheld the violation and ordered Hatfill to pay the fine.

Connolly called the whole matter "silly to the extreme." He also questioned why the agent who struck Hatfill received "no ticket, no citation and no violation."

The Washington FBI office is leading the probe of the October 2001 attacks in which anthrax-laced envelopes were sent to government and media offices. Five people were killed and 17 others sickened.

Hatfill, who has been described as "a person of interest" by Attorney General John Ashcroft, has denied any involvement in the attacks.

Hatfill once worked as a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md. The facility housed the strain of anthrax found in the envelopes sent to the victims.

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