By Tim Craig and Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, July 6, 2009; B01
D.C. Council member Marion Barry found himself mired in more political, legal and personal drama yesterday after his arrest late Saturday on charges that he was stalking a female companion.
Barry's latest run-in with the law centers on his relationship with political consultant Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, who alleges that he continues to approach her even though they split up a few months ago.
Barry, Watts-Brighthaupt and police gave conflicting accounts of how the former mayor ended up in police custody Saturday night after attending several Fourth of July functions.
U.S. Park Service Police arrested Barry (D-Ward 8) about 8:45 p.m. in Anacostia Park after a woman flagged down an officer to report that a man in a nearby vehicle was "bothering her," police said.
After interviewing Barry and Watts-Brighthaupt, Barry, 73, was charged with one count of "misdemeanor stalking," said Sgt. David Schlosser, a Park Police spokesman. Barry, on probation for failing to pay his federal taxes, was released hours later and ordered to appear in court Thursday.
Through a spokeswoman yesterday, Barry called the charges unfounded and asked prosecutors to drop them. Natalie Williams, the spokeswoman, said that Barry feels "betrayed" because of the emotional and financial support he has provided Watts-Brighthaupt, 40, over the years and that he suggested she is unstable. In April, Barry made news after he paid $800 at an auction to buy Watts-Brighthaupt an opera jacket even as he struggled to repay back taxes.
Williams said Barry and Watts-Brighthaupt met Saturday afternoon for lunch before Barry attended several Fourth of July events. On his way home, Williams said, Barry once again came into contact with Watts-Brighthaupt near the park after they saw each other's vehicles. "How are there charges of stalking when they had lunch earlier in the day?" Williams asked. "It was consensual. . . . There was no hide-and-seek stalking as one would think when they hear the term."
In an interview, Watts-Brighthaupt said she didn't seek to have Barry arrested and did not report the encounter to police. Police pulled over Barry for a traffic violation, she said.
Watts-Brighthaupt, the mother of two girls, says she never felt her life was in danger as Barry was "trying to catch me." But she said she has "tons and tons of evidence to prove" that Barry was stalking her in a way that was not life-threatening.
Barry, through his spokeswoman, alleged that Park Police mistreated him by holding him for four hours Saturday night before giving him access to his attorney. Police officials declined to comment on the specifics of the arrest. Schlosser said the officer who arrested Barry was a New York native who did not know that Barry was a prominent D.C. Council member. He said Barry was "very cooperative" during the booking process.
Watts-Brighthaupt said she worked on Barry's 2008 council campaign as a paid consultant and they began dating during the Democratic National Convention last summer. She said they broke up three days before his kidney transplant in February. "It was a wonderful, insightful, history-telling experience," she said of their time together.
The two still see each other every other day, she said.
Watts-Brighthaupt said she is angered by the accusations Barry's spokeswoman made at the news conference. "I'm not emotionally disturbed. I did not siphon money off him," Watts-Brighthaupt responded. "I've never asked for a thing. I've never asked for a . . . thing -- including the $800 opera coat."
If convicted of the stalking charge, Barry could face a year in prison and a fine up to $500, according to police sources. Barry is scheduled to meet with reporters today.
The incident marks Barry's third run-in with the Park Police since his six-month jail term on misdemeanor drug charges in 1992.
In 2002, Park Police said that they found traces of marijuana and crack cocaine in his car. Barry said the drugs were planted, and charges were not filed. In 2006, Park Police cited Barry for operating a vehicle on a suspended license after he was pulled over for driving too slowly.
The same year, Barry was sentenced to three years of probation for not submitting federal and D.C. tax returns. In May, Barry's probation was extended by two years after prosecutors argued that he also failed to file his 2007 taxes on time.
John Roth, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, declined to comment on how the arrest might affect Barry's probation. A source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said Barry's arrest is technically a violation of his probation. But the source added that prosecutors and judges generally look at the facts of the case before deciding how to proceed.
Staff writer Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.