Federal judge wants probe of missing police records

Federal judge wants probe of missing police records

Reprint

Reprinted from Washington Examiner

A federal judge has called for an investigation into the D.C. police department after officials there destroyed key evidence related to a controversial mass arrest of anti-globalization protesters in 2002.

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said Wednesday he wanted to get to the bottom of the disappearance of police records of the orders and movements of police officers in a massive crackdown of protesters rallying against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Hundreds of innocent bystanders in Pershing Park were swept up by the police dragnet. Some 400 people have filed a class-action civil rights lawsuit. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, then a deputy, ordered those arrested to be "hog tied" -- bound hand to foot.

In federal court Wednesday, Sullivan ordered D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles to file an affidavit on the disappearance of the records within the next two weeks. He also suggested that he might appoint an independent investigator to look into the matter.

"When, if ever, can anyone trust their government?" Sullivan asked.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard said the District has shown "reckless disregard" for legal ethics.

"This case has now developed from a case solely about a massive constitutional rights violation to being about a massive cover-up," she said.

Nickles denied there was anything untoward in the destruction of the evidence and blamed the D.C. Council for not funding a better document-management system.

Police union Chairman Kris Baumann, who has often litigated against the department, said the incident wasn't isolated.

"The destruction of e-mails, the destruction of documents -- anything to cover up government misconduct is the norm," Baumann said.

Councilwoman Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, who was a special prosecutor when the council looked into the Pershing Park arrests, said the council should open a new investigation into the missing evidence.

bmyers@washingtonexaminer.com