D.C. to pay $450,000 to war protesters over 2002 interrogation

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The District agreed to pay $450,000 Monday to eight war protesters to settle a civil lawsuit they filed after a 2002 interrogation.

The protesters had alleged that FBI agents had detained them in a Washington parking garage and interrogated them on videotape about their political and religious beliefs.

For years, authorities suggested that the interrogation never happened. FBI and D.C. police said they had no records of such an incident. And police told a federal court that no FBI agents were present when officers arrested the protesters for trespassing.

But as attorneys for the protesters were preparing for the trial, which was scheduled to begin in federal court Nov. 30, they unearthed D.C. police logs that confirm the role of a secret FBI intelligence unit in the incident.

As part of the settlement, the District agreed to pay each of the protesters $25,000, with the rest of the money going to attorney fees and litigation costs, said the protester's attorney, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice.

As a result of the settlement, Verheyden-Hilliard said, D.C. police agreed not to allow outside agencies to question people in police custody without a D.C. police officer signing off on the questioning.

"We believe this will make it impossible for this kind of illegal action to occur again," she said.

Verheyden-Hilliard said the group was detained and interrogated in the garage of a building at 1275 K St. NW as the demonstrators returned to their parked van to retrieve food. What sparked the suspicion of the plainclothes FBI agents was that the protesters were wearing black -- garb the FBI and police associated with anarchists.

The demonstrators were part of a cacophonous protest April 20, 2002, in which about 75,000 people gathered on the Mall. Demonstrators for and against the war in Iraq gathered, in addition to people rallying for an end to U.S. aid to Israel and for peace in the Middle East.

The settlement was the first of at least four civil cases against the District filed by demonstrators who have charged the city with violating their rights and in which the District had "problems" with the evidence or proof, said D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles. Nickles said he hopes to settle the remaining three cases by Thanksgiving.

"I've committed to getting to the bottom of these various problems and at the same time to get them resolved," Nickles said.


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