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NYCLU Questions The Investigation Of A Buffalo Artist

The New York Civil Liberties Union is questioning the propriety of an investigation into work of Buffalo artist Steven Kurtz. The NYCLU has written a letter to U.S. Attorney Michael Battle inquiring about the presentation of the case of Professor Kurtz to a Grand Jury.

“It doesn’t appear that this investigation satisfies the FBI standards that the facts and circumstances of the case must reasonably indicate that a crime has been committed,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU.

Steven Kurtz is a respected member of the faculty of the University of Buffalo. Professor Kurtz is also member of a group of performance artists called Critical Artists Ensemble (CAE) which espouses critical cultural views. CAE works with transgenic DNA, which experts in public accounts consider to be non-toxic and not dangerous to anyone who encounters it. Professor Kurtz’s work with transgenic E. coli came to the attention of officials who were called to his home in early May following the death of Kurtz’s wife, apparently of natural causes.

News reports indicate Buffalo police contacted the FBI when they saw what they considered suspicious material in the home of Professor Kurtz. A notice to evacuate the house was filed by the health department and following 2 days of investigation, the Erie County Health Department said the home was not considered a public health threat.

Subsequent to that declaration, a Grand Jury had been convened to investigate the matter further. The NYCLU understands a federal statute on bio-terrorism may have been invoked to probe further into Professor Kurtz’s possession of large quantities of hazardous material, although public accounts indicate transgenic E. coli was completely harmless. It appears that the possession of this material by Professor Kurtz was for research or artistic purposes which are well within the safe harbor provision of the statute.

In addition, the NYCLU is concerned that the investigation also may be linked to the critical cultural views espoused by Professor Kurtz and CAE. If this is the case, the investigation would be unconstitutional.

Unless the U.S. Attorney is in possession of facts very different from what has been publicly reported, we call on his office to discontinue its investigation of Professor Kurtz.

Click here to read the NYCLU’s letter.

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