When Anisa Owens was sexually assaulted and raped in the alley behind her Northwest Washington home in May 1996, she frantically fought her attacker, broke away, ran and called 911. D.C. police officers arrived, she said--and arrested her.
The charge was an outstanding warrant. The officers took her to the 4th District police station on Georgia Avenue and Peabody Street NW and handcuffed her to a chair for several hours before taking her to D.C. General Hospital for an examination after the rape, according to an interview with her attorney.
Owens spent two days in the D.C. jail before being released. She alleged in court records that police locked up the wrong woman and that the woman authorities were looking for was white with a different name and birth date than Owens, who is African American. Owens could not be reached for comment, and her attorney said he no longer has a telephone number for her.
"She was quite traumatized by that--being left cuffed to a chair after being raped," Keith Watters, the Washington lawyer who handled the case, said in an interview. "There was no outstanding warrant."
Police denied in court records that hours passed before they took her to the hospital. They also didn't acknowledge that they arrested the wrong person.
Owens sued, and in February the District paid her $67,500, according to District and court records.
Since November 1997, the District has agreed to pay $2.5 million to nearly 100 people who have accused D.C. police of making false arrests, acting on mistaken search warrants and using excessive force, according to records obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act. In many instances, D.C. police officers involved in the cases were not disciplined. In some cases, the officers were later promoted.
There have been 78 settlements and 17 judgments and court orders, with the District paying out from $500 to $254,000 per case, records show.
"That's a lot of money and . . . a lot of cases," said Mary Jane DeFrank, executive director of the Washington area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "How many people does this happen to where they don't bring it to court?"
Fairfax County has paid nothing since July 1, 1997, to settle false arrest claims, according to County Attorney David P. Bobzien. Four cases are pending, including one on appeal and two scheduled for trial in the next two months, he said. "We've been very fortunate, and it hasn't been just luck," Bobzien said. "We do an extraordinary job of training our officers."
In Montgomery County, 23 people have filed false arrest claims since July 1, 1997, with no money awarded in eight of those cases, according to county risk manager Terry Fleming. Fifteen cases remain under investigation, he said.
Prince George's County Attorney Shawn Wallace said the county did not keep those statistics.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said he was surprised at the amount paid by the District and the number of settlements and judgments.
"Oh, really? Damn," the chief said. "I'm sure they [the District] had reason to settle the cases."
Although false arrests are not uncommon, they shouldn't happen as frequently as they do in the District, Ramsey said. "A lot of it has to do with training," he said, acknowledging that arrest procedures are discussed only "indirectly" during police training.
Better officer training likely would reduce claims of false arrest, according to Katheryn K. Russell, a criminology professor at the University of Maryland.
"There have been all kinds of problems in D.C. in terms of officer training," she said. "Ideally, this should be dealt with at recruitment."
Training deficiencies have plagued the D.C. police department for years. When Ramsey took over the force 16 months ago, he pledged to beef up training. He implemented a training course in ethics and management at Pennsylvania State University. Captains, lieutenants and sergeants are required to attend.
But there has been little training for officers on the street who must become more proficient at dealing with residents.
James Deck was awarded more than $102,000 after he was falsely arrested and then beaten by one officer as other officers stood and watched, according to court records.
Deck was walking at First and L streets SE about 8:30 a.m. July 31, 1992, when he was stopped by two 1st District police officers on bicycles, according to court records. They asked him for identification and relayed the information to a police dispatcher. The dispatcher told the officers Deck was wanted on a fugitive warrant in Maryland.
Deck told the officers that the warrant was no longer outstanding and that he could prove it by showing them a piece of paper he had in his pocket. He said that the computer system listing outstanding warrants had not been updated and that he had just been released from a Maryland jail for the same warrant.
The officers allegedly declined to review the paperwork, and Deck fled. They captured him a couple of blocks away, hiding under a BMW. They arrested and handcuffed him. Three other officers arrived, including Officer Alvin Rice, who allegedly called Deck a derogatory name and began beating him on the head, chest and ribs while the other officers watched, according to court records. Another officer told Rice to stop, but he did not, records said.
Deck, still handcuffed, spat on Rice and kicked him in the groin. Rice then allegedly began beating Deck with a blackjack. Deck was taken to a cell and remained there for more than two hours before being taken to D.C. General Hospital for treatment.
Deck suffered a concussion, facial fractures and cervical sprains, records show. He sued the department, and a jury found three officers liable for violating his civil rights. Deck was awarded $90,000 in June 1998 and an additional $12,153 this year. It was unclear from records whether the charges against Deck were dropped.
Rice admitted in court records that he hit Deck at least once with a blackjack. He also said that Deck, who has been in and out of the criminal justice system since 1972, resisted arrest. Rice was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon and sentenced to two years' probation and community service in 1994. He was fired after the criminal trial.
"This isn't a good way of doing community policing," Russell said. "They are tainting the rest of the men in blue."
The other officers present during Deck's beating, Michael Bland, Antoine Collins and Allee Ramadhan, remain on the police force. Bland was exonerated. Collins is now assigned to the criminal investigation division, and Collins was promoted to sergeant in March, according to the department's human resources office.
Other incidents of false arrest include:
* Woodrow Burtt, who was unloading his tractor-trailer on West Virginia Avenue NE in December 1995 and argued with 5th District officer Horace T. Douglas, who ordered Burtt to move it. The two men exchanged words, and the officer allegedly threw Burtt to the ground, pepper-sprayed him and put a gun to his head, according to court records.
Burtt was charged with simple assault and obstructing traffic and spent two days in the D.C. jail pending a hearing. The charges eventually were dropped, and Burtt sued the department. In December 1998, a jury found the officer guilty of false arrest and assault and battery. Burtt was awarded $18,307, records show. Douglas is now assigned to the department's court liaison division.
* George DeVincent, 77, was arrested after police came to his house looking for a friend who allegedly was involved in a domestic quarrel. Police ordered DeVincent to take his barking dog inside the house, and he and an officer exchanged words, according to court records. DeVincent, who had a heart condition, was taken to the 3rd District, handcuffed to a chair and held for 19 hours without food, court records state. Charges against him were dismissed. DeVincent sued, and the District awarded him $11,000 in January, records show.
Russell questioned whether the department imposes sanctions against officers who make false arrests. She said officers who act unprofessionally shouldn't be promoted.
But Ramsey said the police union contract prevents him from denying a promotion unless the officer has been suspended for 20 days. He has, though, created the Office of Professional Responsibility to handle allegations of officer misconduct.
"Obviously, if there's insufficient probable cause, then an arrest ought not be made," Ramsey said. "I'll certainly go back and take a look at that sort of thing."
Four From the Files
Since November 1997, the District has paid $2.5 million to nearly 100 people who have sued the D.C. police department for false arrest, mistaken warrants or use of excessive force. A few examples of the false arrest settlements and judgments paid out:
$37,500 to Van Roe Davis, Christine Brown and Alfreda Brown after D.C. police, armed with search warrants, allegedly ransacked their homes and tied up two of the women on May 8, 1996. The officers had served the warrants on the wrong addresses.
$20,750 to Kimfrey Holloway after D.C. police responded to a domestic dispute call from Holloway at his Southeast apartment on Oct. 22, 1997. Officers from the 7th District arrested Holloway and allegedly maced him several times, beat and kicked him before he passed out. He was taken to D.C. General Hospital and diagnosed with multiple scalp contusions, face lacerations and chemical irritation to his eyes. Holloway was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The charges were later dismissed.
$7,000 to Manijeh Jamshidi after she was arrested on a charge of simple assault on Oct. 4, 1994. Jamshidi was working as a receptionist in a doctor's office when a female patient allegedly became abusive toward the doctor and grabbed paperwork from Jamshidi and destroyed it. The patient and her mother left the office and returned with a security guard, who asked for identification from the receptionist. Several officers from the 4th District arrived and arrested Jamshidi and allegedly threw the doctor against filing cabinets when he demanded to know what was going on.
$6,000 to Kenneth Edmonds, who was arrested Sept. 29, 1995, while walking to his car across the street from his mother's house in Northeast. Edmonds, who walked with the aid of a cane, was stopped by several officers from the 6th District who believed he was carrying cocaine. The officers arrested him for allegedly violating the controlled substances act. Edmonds alleged that one of the officers kicked him in the back and side and another one punched him in the eye. When he tried to question them, one officer allegedly said: "Shut up, big boy. You're lucky we didn't kill you."