Home » News » News Library » Pershing Park Settlement Announced

Pershing Park Settlement Announced

Press Release

After more than seven years of class action litigation, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund today is pleased to announce a victorious settlement on behalf of a class of nearly 400 persons who were arrested in Pershing Park in September 2002.

On the morning of September 27, 2002, the D.C. police department, working with the U.S. Park Police, encircled Pershing Park, refused to let anyone leave and then arrested and hog-tied peaceful demonstrators, tourists, passers-by, and legal observers. Many were held bound wrist to ankle on a police gym floor for upwards of 24 hours.

The settlement totaling approximately $8.25 million will provide for eligible arrestees to receive about $18,000 each. There are also equitable relief provisions in the settlement. The PCFJ and the District also recently reached a $13.7 million settlement involving a class action on behalf of nearly 700 persons mass arrested in April 2000.

These settlements are believed to be the largest mass arrest settlements in the history of the United States. Lead counsel on the class action cases are Carl Messineo and Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founders of the PCJF.

The Pershing Park case received national and international media attention after it was revealed by the PCJF attorneys that the Metropolitan Police Department and the Office of Attorney General had engaged in widespread destruction and withholding of evidence. In the course of extensive litigation and discovery, PCJF attorneys uncovered and exposed that the running resume, which is a comprehensive log of police activity on the day of the arrest, had been destroyed. The destruction included not only the database and electronic backup but at least a dozen hard copies of the information. PCJF attorneys also uncovered that segments of taped audio transmissions, known as radio runs, were deleted. The data missing was from the time the arrests were being ordered and executed.

Presiding U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan called the discovery misconduct in this matter the “civil equivalent of the Ted Stevens case.”

The District itself commissioned an investigation by former Federal Judge Stanley Sporkin whose recent report expressed being “particularly disturbed” by the purging of evidence and stated, “We have no way of knowing whether this was an act of intentional mischief or reflects a benign action. We do not believe it was the latter.”

The settlement of the Pershing Park case, Barham, et al. v. Ramsey, et al. (Case No. 02-CV-2283), comes on the heels of the settlement of the similar illegal mass false arrest and hog-tying of nearly 700 persons in April 2000. The settlement in Becker, et al. v. District of Columbia, et al. (Case No. 01-CV-811) totals $13.7 million as well as equitable relief provisions. The PCJF attorneys represented the class during the nearly ten years since the arrests. Both of these mass false arrests occurred under the direction of former D.C. Chief of Police Charles H. Ramsey, now Police Commissioner for Philadelphia and recent appointee to the Gates Commission.

Last month, the District settled the case of eight protestors (Bolger, et al. v. District of Columbia, et al.) who were arrested on April 20, 2002. In this landmark case, the arrestees, who were never prosecuted for the false arrests, were politically targeted by law enforcement in part based on the black clothing that some were wearing. Following their arrests, they were interrogated about their political beliefs by a secret intelligence unit of the FBI. The District was hit with sanctions for its discovery misconduct in that case, including its efforts to withhold the running resume. PCJF attorneys represented the plaintiffs.

Equitable Relief

In addition to the monetary terms, the District will change certain policies and practices as part of the settlements of these two class actions.

Equitable relief provisions include: The MPD and OAG are required to centrally index and log all materials collected and reviewed in demonstration cases, a measure calculated to create an audit trail that will prevent future acts of evidence destruction; funding is established for document management software to be used to log and index evidence; new mandatory requirements for the preservation, indexing maintenance of the integrity of the command center running resume, radio runs and video recorded evidence; and ongoing obligations to report to PCJF attorneys every six months for the next three years on the implementation of these measures. There are additional training and accountability requirements for police personnel including requirements for training on lawful standard operating procedures in the context of First Amendment protected assemblies and mass demonstrations and additional obligations when the MPD obtains the assistance of outside law enforcement agencies for demonstration related duties. The records of the over 1,000 persons falsely arrested in these two class actions will be expunged and the arrests declared null and void.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) is a not-for-profit legal and educational organization which, among other things, seeks to ensure constitutional accountability within police practices. The PCJF recently won a unanimous ruling at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals finding the MPD’s unprecedented military-style police checkpoint program unconstitutional. It is counsel on the still-pending Frucht case in which police assaulted demonstrators during a permitted April 2003 anti-war march in Washington, D.C.. 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.