Washington School Board member Frank Shaffer-Corona was arrested yesterday and charged with assaulting a police officer in a dispute that broke out while Shaffer-Corona was having a 3 a.m. cup of coffee at a small restaurant on Columbia Road.
Police said the school board member noisily interferred with them while they were arresting a man at a nearby table who was wanted for jumping $2,000 bail on a burglary charge in West Virginia.
As they were taking the man, identified as Henry Salmen, 27, to a squad car, police said Shaffer-Corona pushed aside several police officers, accusing them of arresting the wrong man.
Shaffer-Corona, who has been at the center of acrimonious feuds on the school board for the past 2 1/2 years, angrily denied the police charge.
"I'm not a violent person," he declared in an interview after being released on his own recognizance. "And I'm not stupid either. I wouldn't assault a police officer. There must have been 15 of them."
Shaffer-Corona, 36, accused the police of bruising his upper left arm as an officer "dragged" him to a squad car.
While he was at the police station, Shaffer-Corona said the police were "nasty and rude."
"One accused me of being a Communist," he said. "One accused me of being an Iranian, and one accused me being a sympathizer of Fidel Castro. Maybe they read the Washington Post . . .I was just being very calm and very respectful.
Shaffer-Corona said he was released after daybreak, having spent several hours in custody. D.C. Superior Court Judge William S. Thompson ordered his release over the telephone, Shaffer-Corona said. He said Thompson had been contacted by school board president Barbara Lett Simmons after she received word of Shaffer-Corona's arrest from his secretary, whom he had phoned from the 3rd District police station.
Thompson said he told police to release Shaffer-Corona without bail because he was certain the school board member would appear for arraignment. The judge said that when Simmons phoned him about the arrest, he suggested that she call the police department and tell the police to phone him about the case, which police did.
Later in the morning Salmen, who lives in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., was arraigned before D.C. Superior Court Judge Sylvia Bacon. He was released without bail for a hearing July 9. Besides being subject to a fugitive warrant from West Virginia, Salmen has been charged with possession of marijuana that police said was found in his pocket after his arrest here.
The arrest occurred early yesterday morning at Al's Sub-Preme, a restaurant and carryout at the corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW, just a block from Shaffer-Corona's apartment.
Shaffr-Corona said he was having coffee there with a friend when "three or four cops charged over to this table [nearby] and started yelling at a man [that they wanted to arrest him]."
He said the man told police he wasn't named Salmen, but Manuel Garson.
"The fellow was feeling his Cheerios," Shaffer-Corona said. "He reacted to the police on the level they came at him -- rough, loud, and rude."
Shaffer-Corona said he walked over to try to calm things down. He said he told the police: "This is a Latino. This is a human being. You have no right talking to him like this."
But he said police told him to keep out of the way even after he identified himself as "an elected official in this community and I want to know what's going on."
After this exchange, Shaffer-Corona and the police put handcuffs on the suspect. Shaffer-Corona said he asked, "What are you doing? Did you read him his rights?"
At this point the scuffle occurred.
Shaffer-Corona is scheduled to be arraigned in D.C. Superior Court Monday morning.
Two years ago Shaffer-Corona stirred controversey when he used school board travel funds to attend a Communist-dominated World Youth Fesitval in Cuba, where he denounced the United States as a "police state" and praised the Castro government.
Last winter he made $300 worth of phone calls from the school board offfice to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Shaffer-Corona said he spoke to the Iranian militants holding American hostages to seek the release of three hostages who were Latino or American Indian.
He spent five weeks in Lebanon in March and April, Shaffer-Corona said, on a trip financed by the Palestine Liberation Organization. Before he left Washington he announced that he also planned to visit Iran. But later he said he met Iranian representatives in Beirut and didn't go to Tehran.
Although police treated him "rudly" at the 3rd District station, Shaffer-Corona said they were "friendly" at police headquarters downtown where he was taken for fingerprinting.
"One [officer] asked me for my autograph for his nine-month-old son," Shaffer-Corona said. "Of course, I gave it to him, and he gave me some change for cigarettes."