Federal judge blasts D.C. Attorney General's Office in protest case

Federal judge blasts D.C. Attorney General's Office for concealment of evidence

Washington Post article on sanctions victory, 07-30-09
To read the Washington Post article, click here.

For the past eight years, the ANSWER Coalition has been organizing against war, racism, and in defense of civil liberties and civil rights. The following is an email sent by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund regarding a highly significant development involving the rights of protestors. The case stems from the mass arrest of nearly 400 people in Washington D.C.'s Pershing Park on September 27, 2002.

The outcome of this case has far-reaching implications for others who have suffered mass arrest and other acts of police abuse, misconduct, and brutality. Please forward the message from the PCJF to your friends and family and to those on social networking sites and to get more information about the case and to sign up for updates on civil rights and civil liberties issues go to www.JusticeOnline.org.

A U.S. federal judge called for an investigation into the conduct of the Washington, D.C., Office of the Attorney General for its concealment of crucial evidence in a case brought by the PCJF arising from the mass arrest of nearly 400 peaceful demonstrators, legal observers, tourists and bystanders on September 27, 2002.

The Judge has ordered the Attorney General for D.C., Peter Nickles, to submit an affidavit under penalty of perjury explaining his office's conduct in this case, and the loss and destruction of crucial evidence.

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the case appeared to be the "civil counterpart of the Ted Stevens case," in which the U.S. Department of Justice is under investigation for prosecutorial misconduct. He added that the conduct of the Attorney General's Office raised the question of, "when, if ever, can anyone trust their government?"

The plaintiffs in the case were surrounded, trapped and arrested in Washington, D.C.’s  Pershing Park without warning during protests in opposition to the policies of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Hundreds of arrestees where hog-tied wrist to ankle in stress and duress positions for 24+ hours on a gym floor.  

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of those arrested.

The Cover-Up

“There has been a deliberate pattern of obstruction, including a breathtaking destruction of evidence, by the D.C. government in an effort to cover up this crime against those who engaged in, or came near, protected free speech activity in the Nation’s Capital,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founder with Carl Messineo of the PCJF. Both attorneys are co-lead counsel on the class action case. Attorney Jonathan Turley and counsel from Bryan Cave are counsel on a related legal action stemming from the same arrests. Both sets of attorneys joined in filing for sanctions against D.C.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued before the court that the D.C. government should be sanctioned for destroying a central database and other key evidence, and for concealing hundreds of pages of records and videotapes until the eve of a sanctions hearing, which the government was compelled to produce during the years of litigation. You can read the PCJF's Motion for Sanctions by clicking here.

After years of painstaking litigation and rigourous examination, the PCJF presented to the Court a record of vast discovery abuse and evidence destruction. Two key elements are:  
  • The PCJF uncovered that the radio runs (the recordings of police channel communications) are missing seconds and minutes at the moments that the arrests are being executed. The missing data is not just on one channel, but across multiple different recorded channels.  This data would likely reflect the movements and orders of key command officials including the Chief of Police.
  • The backbone Joint Operations Command Center database of the events as they occurred, called the "running resume," has been destroyed. It is a database created in real time as events are unfolding with input from every police and federal agency on the scene reflecting law enforcement movements, orders and observations. First, the District claimed it never existed. The PCJF was able to prove that not only had it existed, but that there had been at least 12 hard copies circulated to command officials and two redundant electronic back-ups of the data base. In deposition, were forced to admit that all of these copies were destroyed, after the hard copy and the database path had been forwarded to the General Counsel's office of the MPD in connection with this case.

To read more information about the case, please go to www.justiceonline.org and sign up for email updates. The PCJF will be posting alerts as this breaking story develops.

In addition to the class action lawsuit, Barham, et. al v Ramsey et. al., the PCJF is lead counsel on numerous First Amendment and constitutional rights cases, including the class action over the similar trap-and-detain mass arrest of nearly 700 people in April 2000 in Washington, D.C.

To read the Washington Post article, "U.S. Judge Blasts D.C.'s Handling of Protest Cases", click here.

To read the Examiner article, Federal Judge Wants Probe of Missing Police Records", click here.

To read the sanctions motion filed by PCJF, click here.

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