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Pershing Park Runaround: District owes answers about city lawyers’ alleged misconduct

Reprinted from The Washington Post

The August 6 Washington Post editorial on the mass arrests of peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C. in 2002 echoes Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan’s “extraordinary rebuke” of D.C. government and police officials for the loss, destruction and withholding of evidence and other abuses stemming from the case.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund attorneys are counsel for the 400-person class action lawsuit.

Please read The Post editorial and share it with friends and co-workers through email lists and social networking sites. We have enclosed at the bottom of this email links to other media reports that were filed in the last week. The outcome of this case will have a profound impact on civil liberties issues as well as the rights of dissenters and the accountability of government and police officials.

ON THE MORNING of Sept. 27, 2002, D.C. police monitoring protests at the IMF/World Bank meetings swept into Pershing Park and, without warning or cause, rounded up hundreds of people. Peaceful protesters, innocent bystanders and others hurrying to work were unlawfully arrested, hogtied by police and confined for hours — their constitutional rights violated. If that weren’t bad enough, it now appears that efforts to get a full accounting and redress for those events are being thwarted by what a federal judge characterized as intolerable conduct by city lawyers. These troubling allegations cannot go unanswered.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan last week blasted D.C. officials for mishandling evidence in a civil lawsuit brought by some of those arrested seven years ago. In an extraordinary rebuke that reduced D.C. assistant attorney general Thomas Koger to tears, Judge Sullivan likened the city’s “shenanigans” to the kind of prosecutorial abuses he saw in the criminal case of former senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). The office of D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles was singled out, but the questions extend to police and other officials.

Plaintiffs allege that critical evidence — such as the “running r__sum__” of all events and decisions made on Sept. 27 — was destroyed or lost. Even more troubling is their rather convincing charge that information was deleted from audiotapes supplied to them during discovery. Judge Sullivan has demanded that Mr. Nickles provide a full accounting of the city’s “pattern of shortcomings” and “discovery abuses.”

Mr. Nickles told us that he is taking the judge’s admonition to heart. He has blamed the city’s inability to properly manage records during discovery on a chronic lack of resources, but he said he is reserving judgment on exactly what went wrong in this case until he knows all the facts. It’s encouraging that he enlisted former federal judge Stanley Sporkin, who is offering his considerable expertise on a pro bono basis, to advise him.

Judge Sullivan is correct when he asserts that the issues raised by the government’s conduct call into question “when, if ever, can anyone trust their government.” The problems with this case predate Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Mr. Nickles, but they have persisted into the current administration. Mr. Fenty should heed the judge’s advice to get involved and settle this case, if for no other reason than to end the mounting costs of litigation and court sanctions. And, if the judge is not satisfied with the account to be provided by Mr. Nickles, the mayor should welcome an outside look. Because some on the D.C. Council have already prejudged the outcome, the court itself would best provide that oversight.

Related articles

Washington Post editorial: Pershing Park Runaround
The District owes some answers about city lawyers’ alleged misconduct in a lawsuit stemming from police abuse.


Pershing Park Case: Now It’s All About The Cover Up; Nickles Faces Huge Test In U.S. District Court

Councilmember Cheh Calls for Nickles to Resign

The Pershing Park Case: Did A District Official Commit Perjury?

Pershing Park: Another Piece Of Evidence Goes Missing; One Cop Speaks Out

Judge Sullivan is hometown avenging angel

Mendelson joins call for A.G.’s head

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.