A Life magazine photographer filed a $2 million lawsuit against the District yesterday, alleging that while on assignment here in August he was attacked and his camera equipment unconstitutionally searched by a D.C. police officer who was using tactics approved for the drug crackdown known as Operation Clean Sweep.
The suit claims the tactics sanction "aggressive confrontation" with "white, middle-aged, middle-class in appearance, males" who are found in drug markets "on the grounds that they may reasonably be suspected of attempting to purchase drugs and other controlled substances."
A D.C. police spokeswoman said the department would have no comment on the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court by Tony O'Brien of Santa Fe. A Life magazine official said yesterday that O'Brien is a free-lance photographer who at the time of the incident was under contract with Life for a story about AIDS among prostitutes in the District.
According to the court papers filed by lawyer Joseph J. McCarthy, O'Brien had earlier spent "numerous days and evenings" near Ninth and N streets NW before the incident as part of his assignment.
The suit claims he was sitting in a parked car near the intersection about 11 p.m. on Aug. 23 waiting for an assistant when 3rd District Officer Thomas E. Pair pulled his patrol car next to O'Brien's car and Pair asked why O'Brien was there. When O'Brien explained, Pair ordered him to leave the area, according to the suit. O'Brien replied that he was on assignment for Life, and reached for his camera bag, telling Pair that his press identification was in the bag, the suit alleges.
The officer then got out of the patrol car, went to O'Brien's car and grabbed the camera bag, hitting O'Brien in the face with his fist and breaking O'Brien's glasses, which cut his face, according to the suit.
Pair then pulled O'Brien and the camera bag from the car and continued to hit him, the suit contends. O'Brien fell to the ground and as he lay there, the officer searched the camera bag, examining each piece of equipment and then throwing each to the ground, damaging the equipment, according to the suit.
The suit is assigned to U.S. District Judge Norma H. Johnson.