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Dc police wrongfully arrested 400 imf protest { September 12 2003 }

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Judge Orders D.C. to Release Report on IMF Arrests

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 2003; Page B01

A federal judge called upon District Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday to publicly admit that police wrongfully arrested as many as 400 people during demonstrations at a downtown park last year.

"The mayor and the chief of police should step up to the plate and tell the citizens what they did wrong that day in Pershing Park," U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said during a hearing on four lawsuits filed by many of those caught up in the mass arrests.

"If the city has gone so far as to investigate this matter and recognize it was wrong when hundreds of people were arrested . . . I think the citizens need to know what happened," Sullivan said.

The judge's remarks were the latest development in a controversy that began Sept. 27, 2002, when riot police surrounded the park, at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, and then arrested people in the crowd during antiwar and anti-globalization demonstrations.

The lawsuits allege that, on the first morning of tense protests against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, police surrounded protesters as well as uninvolved bystanders, blocked them from leaving the park, and arrested them without first giving an order to disperse.

The arrests were for failing to obey a police order. The plaintiffs are accusing D.C. police and U.S. Park Police of civil rights violations.

During the hearing, Sullivan repeatedly asked the District government's attorney about news accounts that an internal police investigation had found violations of arrest procedure and possible violations of free speech rights by authorities.

The District's attorney, corporation counsel lawyer Thomas Koger, acknowledged that the report found that the arrests violated general police orders.

Williams (D) has not released the report, dated Jan. 25. He and Ramsey did not attend the hearing.

Yesterday, Sullivan ordered the city to deliver a copy of the report to him and to all attorneys in the case by noon today. The judge said he will consider any requests by the city to keep parts of the report confidential.

"Why shouldn't the public know what you concluded in your investigation?" Sullivan asked Koger. "Think about the lack of public confidence if the mayor and chief say, 'We investigated, we were wrong, but we're not going to tell you what we did wrong.' "

In an interview later, Williams said he wants to be "cooperative and helpful" but said he disagreed that the city has failed to accept responsibility for any mistakes.

"We have acknowledged the seriousness of the situation," Williams said, adding, "We want to learn the lessons from this experience."

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) publicly summarized some of the report's findings in late February, saying they confirm allegations made by protesters and legal-aid groups. Among other things, Patterson said, the report revealed that police never intended to scatter the crowd but had planned to make arrests.

Patterson has criticized the mayor for not making the report public. She has said that it is up to Williams to release the findings.

Tony Bullock, Williams's spokesman, said the mayor will deliver the report to the judge promptly. But he said the city cannot release some of the report's sensitive information to the public, such as details about police personnel disciplined by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility as a result of the findings.

"To say the entire event was improper would be a mischaracterization," Bullock said. "But we're not saying there's no wrongdoing."

Ramsey said yesterday that he will be happy to provide the judge with the internal report. He declined to comment on the findings because the matter is now the subject of litigation.

"I just hope the judge hasn't made up his mind yet in an ongoing case," he said.

Last fall, Ramsey asserted that police "gave [the people arrested in the park] all the warning we feel we needed to give them." After Patterson went public with some of the report's findings, Ramsey acknowledged that it was unclear whether police gave the crowd an order to disperse, but he maintained that there was adequate reason to arrest the protesters.

He said he was offering no apologies and added, "Here are folks that come in and say they want to take over the city."

Patterson, whose Judiciary Committee is investigating the police force's protest practices, said she agreed with Sullivan's exhortations and had made them herself.

"Nobody in the Williams administration has acknowledged the level of wrongdoing, the violations of basic civil liberties, that seems clear on its face," Patterson said. "That's what caused me concern."

2003 The Washington Post Company

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