The District government has asked federal prosecutors and agents to investigate whether information was illegally deleted from an electronic police activity log of a controversial mass arrest in 2002.
The D.C. Attorney General’s Office disclosed the referral in a court filing late Wednesday in a lawsuit brought by four former college students who were among hundreds arrested while protesting the World Bank.
Their lawyers have alleged that D.C. police destroyed evidence in the case and disclosed last week that data may have been deleted from a computerized log in 2003 — the same day that then-D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey testified before the D.C. Council about the arrests.
The lawyers have characterized the attempted deletions as a “clear criminal effort to destroy evidence.”
In the court filing, lawyers for the D.C. Attorney General’s office said it was too early to say whether a crime had been committed and that the accusations by the students’ lawyers were “not based in fact.”
“It is not known at this time whether the attempted deletion of data was intentional or accidental,” the D.C. lawyers wrote.
William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined comment.
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 arrests.
But that does not appear to be the case; the “E-Team” record contains only 11 unique entries about the mass arrests, the students’ lawyers have said.
The disclosure is the latest to emerge in a series of lawsuits related to the arrests on Sept. 2, 2002, in Pershing Park. Police did not warn people to disperse before rounding them up. Some protesters and bystanders 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.
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 determine what happened to that information.
This item has been updated since it was first published.