Judge's warning in World Bank arrest inquiry called 'prejudicial'

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A federal judge has warned 14 current and former District officials, contractors and police employees that his inquiry into whether the city altered or covered up evidence in a controversial mass arrest during a 2002 protest could lead to a criminal investigation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola advised the 14 officials "of their constitutional right not to incriminate themselves" in testimony, and to consider whether they want to be represented by private counsel instead of D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles.

"There is a possibility that the completion of my responsibilities will lead to a referral to the United States Attorney's Office for possible prosecution, Facciola wrote in a July 29 order. "I intend . . . to advise the witnesses of their constitutional rights."

The notice marked the latest attempt by the courts to secure cooperation in a long-running review of the city government's response to lawsuits brought by almost 400 people arrested outside the World Bank on Sept. 27, 2002.

Then-police chief Charles H. Ramsey -- one of the 14 officials put on notice by Facciola -- later apologized for the Pershing Park roundup, in which many plaintiffs were arrested without warning and detained for more than 24 hours. Police, however, lost critical pieces of evidence, including a log of police actions and sections of radio dispatch tapes.

The District has moved to settle the cases for all but four defendants for $8.25 million. A lawyers with the Partnership for Civil Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group that brought a class-action suit over the arrests, declined to comment Tuesday.

In court papers, Nickles called Facciola's approach "unnecessarily intimidating, prejudicial and public.

"There's been no conclusion whether any evidence has been lost or destroyed," Nickles said in an interview, adding, "It was inappropriate to stage this event in the way it's been staged, but to some extent the staging has been obviated by Judge Facciola's excusal of all individuals I know of from having to come."

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan has asked lawyers on both sides to respond to Facciola's order in advance of a hearing on Monday.

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