EITHER THE U.S. Park Police have committed an egregious act of misconduct or former D.C. mayor Marion Barry is lying. The possibility of a third explanation is remote. We refer to the accusation Mr. Barry made Friday, during Kojo Nnamdi's weekly political show on WAMU-FM, that the U.S. Park Police "planted" drugs in his car during a 2002 incident. That highly publicized incident prompted Mr. Barry to back away from plans to seek a D.C. Council seat that year. In fact, after the incident, he issued a one-page statement in which he said, "After much prayer and consultation with my pastor, family, friends and political supporters, I have decided to suspend all actions of my exploratory committee [and] not to run for the at-large seat." Mr. Barry told reporters at the time that he was forgoing a candidacy so that he could do what was best for his family and the city.

He said not a word about police planting drugs in his car. He said only that the incident had "caused deep divisions and acrimony among the District's residents." So apparently did his explanation for being near an open-air drug market in March 2002. The mayor said at the time he was parked that night at Buzzard Point to meet a woman he described as a "longtime political ally" who had asked for his counsel. Shortly thereafter, his wife and most loyal companion, Cora Masters Barry, announced she had left the couple's Southeast Washington home. The U.S. Park Police did not appear, at least at the time, to be the main source of problems in Mr. Barry's life.

Now that he is planning a run this year for the Ward 8 council seat, the March 2002 incident -- in which police said they found a trace of marijuana and $5 worth of crack cocaine in Mr. Barry's Jaguar, with him in it -- has once again raised questions concerning the state of his personal life. Had Mr. Barry given Mr. Nnamdi assurances that his life was in order, the matter might -- and we stress might -- have been settled. Instead the former four-term mayor, by charging that "the Park Service planted whatever they planted in my car," has accused the Park Police of unlawful conduct of a nature that cannot be either ignored or chalked up to campaign rhetoric.

The Park Police dismissed Mr. Barry's accusation, indicating that it stood behind the two officers who reported the 2002 incident but who did not file charges because of the alleged small quantities of drugs that they found. It may be too late to develop additional information on the Buzzard Point incident. But now is as ripe a moment as any for voters to carefully assess -- or reassess -- the honesty, character, vulnerabilities and frailties of Marion Barry, for whom controversy and discord are always close at hand.