By Neely Tucker and Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 2, 2004
Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter was assaulted by at least two men Friday night while jogging alone in a Southwest Washington neighborhood, police said, and was later treated at Washington Hospital Center for minor injuries and released.
The assault took place about 9 p.m. near Fourth and N streets SW, a four-lane street filled with neatly maintained townhouses, apartments and condominiums that has sporadic problems with street crime, neighbors said.
Souter, 64, was apparently a random target, law enforcement officials said, and the case is not being investigated as politically motivated.
"I don't believe they knew who he was," D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday.
Souter was apparently punched by at least one man during the brief encounter, and it is unknown whether there were any witnesses. There have been no arrests, and detectives are investigating. Nearby residents reported no unusual activity that night.
Authorities said Souter went home after the assault and contacted the Supreme Court police, who took him to the hospital. Souter asked that D.C. police be notified because he was concerned for the safety of others in the area, authorities said. He was released from the hospital about 1:30 a.m. yesterday.
Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Souter was not robbed. "I can't say what the intent was," she said.
Souter, a frequent jogger, reportedly lives near the scene of the assault, and he has been seen at a neighborhood grocery store that is one block from there. He is among the most private of the justices, rarely making outside appearances.
Supreme Court justices are not constantly surrounded by the same level of security provided to other high-level government officials. The justices are protected by Supreme Court police when they travel on official business in the city and by federal marshals when they leave town.
Arberg would not answer questions about the justices' security.
The neighborhood where the assault took place is one block south of M Street, the main east-west thoroughfare in that section of the city, and a few blocks north of the Army post at Fort McNair. Apartment buildings and condominiums, populated by a diverse population of young and old, black and white, line Fourth Street. N Street runs one block in each direction across Fourth street, coming to a dead-end in each direction.
But a few blocks east, the neighborhood turns rough, filled with troubled public housing buildings and higher levels of crime. Residents say some street crime isn't unheard of, particularly at night.
"I got mugged near there last year, and I wouldn't let my wife walk to the Safeway at night," said Tomas Quijano, an architect. "There have been a dozen or so muggings around here that I know about in the past year or so."
Tani Kahan, a writer who lives just a few dozen feet from Fourth and N, said she has not felt threatened in the neighborhood during the two years she has lived there.
"I go back and forth to the Metro at that time of night, and I don't really worry about it," she said.
Souter, a native of Melrose, Mass., was a Rhodes scholar and received his law degree from Harvard Law School. He was later the attorney general of New Hampshire and served on the Supreme Court of New Hampshire. He was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. He is viewed as one of the more liberal members of the court.
Staff writers Charles Lane and Allan Lengel and staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.