By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 19, 2009
A D.C. police detective says he overheard then-Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey order a controversial mass arrest during a demonstration in downtown Washington seven years ago, according to attorneys for people taken into custody that day.
The disclosure came in an affidavit filed Wednesday by lawyers suing the District on behalf of scores of people arrested during protests Sept. 27, 2002. The lawyers contend that the detective's statements contradict what Ramsey has said under oath about his role in the roundup.
The detective, Paul E. Hustler, said in an affidavit that he was a few feet from Ramsey during the protests at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank when he overheard the chief tell officers that "we're going to lock them up and teach them a lesson."
Nearly 400 people were arrested in Pershing Park, many of them bystanders, without any warning to disperse. Ramsey, who left the D.C. force in 2006 and is now head of the Philadelphia department, has publicly apologized for the arrests but has consistently denied telling officers to make them.
He has said another police official, Assistant Chief Peter Newsham, ordered the arrests. The former chief said he approved the decision. Newsham has also said he ordered the arrests. In a 2007 deposition, Ramsey said, "I did not order any arrests at any scene during the course of that day," according to court papers.
Jonathan Turley, an attorney for four people arrested in Pershing Park, said the affidavit shows that Ramsey ordered the arrests. "The detective's affidavit raises some troubling questions," he said.
Mark Tuohy, an attorney for Ramsey, said Hustler's comments might not be accurate and prove only that the detective overheard a conversation after Newsham told the chief that he had decided to arrest the protesters.
A federal judge has criticized the District in recent months for its handling of evidence in the case. A key report, which detailed police actions that day, and critical portions of radio dispatch tapes are missing. Attorneys for protesters and bystanders say the District destroyed the tapes and documents.
D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles has said he has launched an internal investigation of the government's conduct and is working to settle two suits over the Pershing Park arrests.
One is a class action brought by Partnership for Civil Justice on behalf of scores of people taken into custody at Pershing Park.