The Aug. 15 Metro article "D.C. Pays Big Price on False Arrests" fails to show the whole picture.
First, the article implies that cases that are not prosecuted lack the basic element of probable cause. Criminal cases are "dropped" and charges "dismissed" by the U.S. Attorney's Office for innumerable reasons rarely having to do with insufficient probable cause. Most frequently, the lack of a cooperating complaining witness will prevent the U.S. Attorney's Office from "papering" a case from its inception. Many cases are dropped along the way when witnesses fail to appear in court, or even as part of combination plea bargains made by defendants who have multiple cases pending.
The U.S. Attorney's Office will also decline to prosecute any jury-demandable case that its does not believe it can sell to 12 D.C. jurors. In my professional experience, this is especially true when, for example, a suspect punches an officer without provocation and the suspect is injured in the ensuing violent struggle to subdue him or her. If the officer has no visible injuries, the U.S. Attorney's Office considers this type of case a "loser," and will actually tell the officer "it's not worth the $12,000 it will cost to prosecute" the case.
The article also fails to examine the practices of the D.C. Corporation Counsel, which apparently has little confidence in its litigation ability and in the D.C. juror pool. Most of the "sample" cases cited in the article referred to settlements. The settlements were below $50,000, and no doubt (despite your silence on the issue) came with no admission of liability. This is the result of simple calculation that if a lawsuit is not dismissed as being without merit, it will cost more than $50,000 to go to trial. No one accounts for the cost of esteem and credibility to the police officers involved who in many cases did nothing wrong, while the city's sizable settlements give the appearance of wrongdoing.
As an officer with the Metropolitan Police Department assigned to the 6th District, I understand the difficult job that officers face nationwide, while putting their lives on the line every day. The fact that the U.S. Attorney's Office and the D.C. Corporation Counsel's Office cheapen our efforts by failing to prosecute valid cases and settling lawsuits where there was no police wrongdoing is disheartening. Too bad your article didn't illuminate any of these issues.
-- Christopher Micciche