Dueling versions between D.C. police, protesters at convention center

Six people from the Occupy D.C. movement were arrested or ticketed in the chaotic moments after a driver struck protesters in front of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Friday night, police said.

By Saturday, police and protesters were still giving divergent accounts of what occurred when more than 500 people gathered to protest a dinner held by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative free-market group affiliated with the tea party movement. Video clips showed tense shouting and shoving at the doors, which left two older women dazed on the ground.

Protesters chanted, beat drums and massed near Seventh and K streets NW, attempting to shut down the intersection and block moving cars, police said. They said that around 10 p.m., one driver tried to navigate a gap in the crowd, but three pedestrians moved in front of the vehicle and were hit.

“They jumped in front of the car,” said Officer Araz Alali, a spokesman for the department.

Members of the Occupy D.C. media team disputed that the protesters jumped in front of the car and claimed that the driver deliberately sped up before hitting the protesters. They said tensions escalated when police let the driver of the car — who was not cited — proceed.

Steve Hartwell, 23, said he watched as police cleared the way for the driver to depart and became angry. He stood at the bumper of the car and made an obscene finger gesture at the driver. He was then detained by police.

“I felt hands on my back, and they had me on the ground really quickly,” Hartwell said. “They were letting the guy go . . . I was really [ticked] off, and I went for it and let them know.” Hartwell, a former Henrico County, Va., resident, quit his construction job to move to the District to join the Occupy movement.

Police said that the pedestrians who were hit were cited for walking against a do-not-walk sign and that later three were arrested for failure to obey an officer.

Police said the three who were struck were not seriously injured. Hartwell was among the three arrested and paid a $100 fine.

Three people who said they had been hit by a car attended a brief media session held Saturday night by police. One, who identified herself as Heidi Sippel, said she suffered a concussion and was given two citations by police. She said police refused to take her statement. A police spokeswoman said the department was open to additional evidence.

Video, from dozens of journalists and protesters, immediately began circulating on the Internet, depicting a series of tension-filled moments between protesters, police and those attending the dinner at the convention hall.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) read about the protest on Twitter and went to the scene. He said he was told police had video backing their version of events and was waiting to see it.

“My understanding is that the driver was not impaired,” Wells said. “He was scared when people began jumping up and down on his car . . . This is a very difficult job for police. Their job is keeping the protesters and people coming out of the convention center safe. Last night, tensions seemed to be rising.” By the time Wells arrived, police had the situation “under control,” he said.

In the more than a month since Occupy D.C. took over McPherson Square, it has grown from a handful of protesters to a full-blown tent city, with a food service operation, library and medical tent. They do not have a permit to occupy the square, but so far they have been allowed to stay.

Staff writer Clarence Williams contributed to this report.

Annie Gowen is The Post’s India bureau chief and has reported for the Post throughout South Asia and the Middle East.
Kevin Sieff has been The Post’s bureau chief in Afghanistan since 2012. He served previously as an education reporter in Washington, and had covered the U.S. -Mexico border.
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