An internal investigation into the D.C. police department's handling of the anti-globalization demonstrations last fall has found that protesters were never told to disperse from a downtown park, even though authorities arrested hundreds in the crowd for failing to obey a police order, according to a D.C. Council member, who sharply criticized the police tactics.
Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) said yesterday that the report confirms allegations by people who were arrested and legal-aid groups about the Sept. 27 arrests. The report, prepared by the police department's internal affairs unit, concludes that D.C. police never intended to scatter the crowd -- which had massed in Pershing Park after a morning of roving demonstrations -- but instead had planned to surround the park and arrest those inside, Patterson said.
Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, whose tight rein on such protests has brought him an international reputation, acknowledged for the first time yesterday that it was unclear whether the crowd was given an order to disperse from the park, at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. But he said that issue was irrelevant, because the protesters had no permit and ignored police orders to clear the streets earlier in the day.
"We need to do a better job of giving clear, direct orders to individuals," he said. Still, he said, "I certainly offer no apologies. Here are folks that come in and say they want to take over the city."
Patterson said she had been given the roughly 20-page report -- with attached photographs showing people with their arms and legs bound by plastic restraints -- about a month ago by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). She said she had not spoken about it earlier because she believed that Williams would publicize it. "He's had it on his desk for more than a month now, and he's done nothing about it," Patterson said.
Patterson said the government "violated the rights of hundreds of District residents and visitors." She declined to release the report, saying she was told it was confidential. Ramsey also would not release it because the mass arrests are the subject of litigation.
Mayoral spokesman Tony Bullock said that Williams had not commented on the report because he received only a preliminary report and not a final copy. The final report should arrive this week, said Bullock, who contended that Patterson was overreacting.
As he has in recent months, the mayor said yesterday that he stood by Ramsey and the police actions. "We're balancing an open society with a safe city," Williams said at his weekly news conference. "It's important to evaluate and review what [police] have done but also to recognize that when they are on the spot and making very, very difficult decisions, it's important to back them up."
Attorneys for two groups of people suing the city over the arrests said yesterday that they planned to seek the report in court.
The arrests followed a chaotic and tense morning in downtown Washington on the first day of demonstrations against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Some demonstrators smashed windows at a Citibank, and others walked down empty streets, shouting slogans and banging drums as police trailed them. Most ended up in Pershing Park.
Patterson said police commanders had decided before the crowd reached the park to make arrests, but they delayed action until the throngs had stopped marching.
A police source confirmed that strategy yesterday. If police didn't wait, "what you'd have is what you saw in Seattle, officers running down the street chasing people," the police source said, referring to the trouble that erupted during an IMF meeting there in 1999.
Patterson, citing the internal affairs report, said that most of the people arrested in the park were charged with "failure to obey a police order," although the officers arresting them had not given orders or seen orders disobeyed. None of those arrested in the park was prosecuted; some paid the equivalent of a fine to avoid facing charges.
In the fall, Ramsey said police "gave [people arrested in the park] all the warning we feel we needed to give them." Yesterday, he said that it was unclear what warnings were given but that there was adequate reason to arrest protesters.
Activists have charged that bystanders in the park were swept up and arrested, too. Law professor Herman Schwartz of American University said yesterday that police cannot arrest anyone who is not actually seen to have committed a crime. "You've got to have probable cause for each and every individual," he said.
Patterson said the report cleared police of allegations that arrested protesters were "hogtied." Plastic handcuffs were used to bind together the wrists and ankles of some protesters, who were unable to stand or lie prone, but the report said that they were not hogtied, as defined in departmental regulations, according to Patterson.
At the mayor's news conference yesterday, Deputy Mayor Margret Nedelkoff Kellems agreed. "The hogtying, as they call it -- I was raised on a farm and wouldn't call that hogtying," Kellems said.
Staff writer Manny Fernandez contributed to this report.