KRMF filed a complaint yesterday alleging that an FBI agent engaged in malicious prosecution and fabrication of evidence in his investigation of Professor Xiaoxing Xi of Temple University.
At daybreak on May 21, 2015, the complaint alleges, FBI agents stormed Professor Xi’s house, held his family at gunpoint, and arrested Professor Xi. Professor Xi was subjected to strip-searches and interrogation. Months later, after Professor Xi lost his position as chair of the physics department and was widely portrayed in the media as a technological spy for China, the Justice Department dropped the charges.
The FBI claimed Professor Xi had engaged in espionage by sending emails to Chinese nationals sharing blueprints for a “pocket heater,” a device used in superconductor research. Professor Xi, the FBI alleged, had signed a nondisclosure agreement consenting not to share the technology.
These claims, however, were groundless, as Professor Xi had never sent information about the “pocket heater” to Chinese nationals. The Justice Department dropped the charges when several expert physicists provided sworn statements that Dr. Xi’s emails contained information regarding an entirely different technology—one that he had invented—and that the emails constituted entirely normal academic collaboration between him and fellow researchers at Chinese universities.
“It’s like comparing a microwave to a toaster,” said KRMF partner David Rudovsky in a New York Times article reporting on the lawsuit. “They’re completely different technologies but, well, they both warm food. It was on that level that the government got the science wrong.”
The lawsuit alleges that the government knew what it was doing all along, or, at a minimum, recklessly ignored evidence proving that Professor Xi committed no crime. According to the complaint, FBI Special Agent Andrew Haugen “intentionally, knowingly, and recklessly made false statements and representations and material omissions of facts in his reports, affidavits, and other communications with federal prosecutors, thereby initiating a malicious prosecution of Professor Xi.”
Agent Haugen’s fabrication of evidence and malicious prosecution led to violations of Professor Xi’s Due Process and Equal Protection rights, the complaint claims, as well as infringements on his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. According to the complaint, the FBI’s unwarranted suspicion of Professor Xi, a naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived in the country since 1989, was based at least partially on his race.
In addition to compensatory damages, the lawsuit demands an injunction to assure the destruction of any personal information of Professor Xi’s that the government retains. “We cannot get rid of the thought that the FBI is reading every one of our emails and listening to our phone conversations,” Professor Xi said to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I am determined to move on, but that’s there.”
The suit is being litigated by KRMF partners David Rudovsky, Jonathan Feinberg, and Susan Lin.
[Update: On October 31, 2017, the firm, along with co-counsel from the ACLU, filed a Second Amended Complaint adding additional claims to the lawsuit.]