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Posted at 12:51 PM ET, 07/18/2011

Did D.C. police destroy evidence in Pershing Park case?

Lawyers representing four former college students detained during a mass arrest during a downtown demonstration in 2002 have accused a D.C. police employee of trying to destroy computerized evidence related to the round-up.

The allegations were disclosed Sunday night in a court filing related to a long-running legal dispute over the controversial arrests of hundreds of people at a World Bank protest. In the court papers, lawyers for four remaining plaintiffs in civil lawsuits against the District alleged that a D.C. police employee went into a computer system and tried to delete information pertaining to the arrests.

The attorneys asked a federal judge to order the District to explain why the attempted deletions should not be referred for criminal prosecution.

“It appears that a serious and malicious federal crime has occurred in relation to this case by someone within [D.C. police] or the District government,” according to the court filing by the students’ lawyers, Daniel C. Schwartz, P.J. Meitl, Daniel T. O’Connor, Bryan Cave and Jonathan Turley.

Lawyers for the District and a spokeswoman for the D.C. police department did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. At a court hearing last week, Monique Presley, a lawyer for the D.C. Attorney General’s Office, first disclosed the attempted deletions to a computer file known as the “E-Team” record, a running computer log of police actions.

The alleged deletions occurred in February 2003, just hours after a D.C. Council hearing examined police actions connected to the Pershing Park arrests. The attempted deletions were discovered by an independent contractor hired by the District to find such records. Because of the way the computer system worked, the identity of the person who attempted to delete the files may never be known.

D.C. officials discovered the “E-Team” record a few months ago. At the time, the city’s lawyers said the record may be a long-missing “running resume” of police actions that occurred during the mass arrests. However, that does not appear to be the case; the “E-Team” record only contains 11 unique entries about the mass arrests, according to the students’ lawyers.

The latest accusation stems from a series of lawsuits related to mass arrests on Sept. 2, 2002, in Pershing Park. Police did not warn people to disperse before rounding them up. Some protesters and by-standers were hog-tied and held for more than 24 hours before being released. Former D.C. police chief Charles H. Ramsey has apologized for the arrests. In 2009, the District and 386 plaintiffs, represented by the non-profit Partnership for Civil Justice, reached an $8.25 million settlement.

The potential deletions of “E-Team” information is not the first time D.C. police have been accused of questionable record-keeping in the Pershing Park matter. Among the problems discovered over the years: the detailed “running resume” vanished, and surveillance tapes and radio recordings either have mysteriously disappeared or were apparently altered.

In 2009, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ordered an investigation into how and why so many records were either altered or mysteriously vanished. Since then, U..S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola has been conducting a probe that seeks to answer those questions.

Last year, former D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and other top police officials testified before Facciola about their conduct.

By  |  12:51 PM ET, 07/18/2011

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