A Superior Court Judge in the District of Columbia slammed the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) for submitting “transparently false” affidavits in an unsuccessful effort to defeat a lawsuit brought by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) that demands that the MPD disclose its orders and policies.
Judge Judith N. Macaluso ruled in favor of the PCJF lawsuit forcing the MPD to release documents that it has spent years concealing and refusing to disclose. The PCJF's litigation has resulted in the largest and most comprehensive release of D.C. police documents in the history of D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The PCJF filed the lawsuit on February 5, 2009 when MPD officials refused to release documents in response to the PCJF's FOIA request seeking orders and policies that dictate how officers are to exercise their authority. The D.C. MPD had been refusing to abide by the 2001 D.C. Council legal mandate that required public disclosure of the information. The MPD had long refused requests from civil rights and civil liberties and community-based organizations for this disclosure, but the PCJF went to court to get the documents.
Judge Macaluso, speaking from the bench said the credibility of the statements sworn under penalty of perjury by MPD officials had “been smashed to smithereens.” The Judge repeatedly referred to the police's sworn statements as to why documents could not be seen by the public as "false," as well as "ridiculous," "practically hysterical," and "hyperbolic."
Speaking in the bluntest possible language to the District’s lawyer who represented the police department and the officials' sworn affidavits, Judge Macaluso, said, “you are responsible for the accuracy of every document that you file in court, and those affidavits are transparently false. A fact you have to know. The District’s willingness to rely upon false documents undermines every argument the District of Columbia puts forward.” The transcript of the hearing is available today.
“This is an important victory for every person in Washington D.C. The MPD wanted to continue to operate in the shadows but that is dangerous, a negation of basic democracy, and a violation of the law. We insisted, and the court agreed, that MPD’s arguments and sworn statements for refusing to comply with its obligations were based on falsifications,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF.
The conscious decision by the police to swear out false statements in the lawsuit raises the troubling question of whether this is a routine practice in the nation’s capital.
“The fact that the police persisted in providing statements that were ‘transparently false’ was revealed in this hard fought litigation. But it raises the question as to what extent equally false sworn police statements may be used in some or many of the thousands of prosecutions that take place each year in the District, but do so outside of the glare of publicity or the scrutiny of extensive litigation,” stated Carl Messineo, Legal Director of the PCJF. A large number of individuals are convicted, fined and incarcerated based on the sworn statements and testimony of the police.
Mr. Messineo added, "the ease with which police officials submitted completely false affidavits to the Court under penalty of perjury raises the question as to how many people have been sent to jail on false police statements. The public has a right to accountability and an end to this practice and culture emanating from the top ranks of the MPD."
Ironically, the Judge’s harsh condemnation of the conduct of the MPD and the District, in a case that goes to the heart of government transparency, came at the start of the annually-recognized “Sunshine Week” when grassroots organizations and individuals from around the country are holding events and activities highlighting the need for open government and for disclosure of information to the public.
The massive disclosure of General Orders, Special Orders and other police directives are being made accessible to the public by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund on www.DCMPD.org. As this next set of documents are released, the PCJF will also post them. To be alerted to new document disclosures, please sign up here. A transcript of the hearing is available here.
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) is a not-for-profit constitutional rights legal and educational organization which, among other things, seeks to ensure constitutional accountability within police practices and government transparency in operations. PCJF's use of FOIA litigation has resulted in the largest and most comprehensive release of D.C. police documents in the history of D.C.'s FOIA law. Additionally, the PCJF's litigation in the Pershing Park mass arrest class action uncovered and exposed that the DC Metropolitan Police Department had engaged in widespread evidence tampering and destruction. The PCJF previously uncovered and disclosed that the D.C. police employed an unlawful domestic spying and agent provocateur program in which officers were sent on long-term assignments posing as political activists and infiltrated lawful and peaceful groups. For more information go to: www.JusticeOnline.org.