All D.C. Police Officer John Strader wanted to do was order a meal.
Now, Strader’s hunt for a menu in a messy filing cabinet at police headquarters has landed him at the center of a contentious lawsuit over a controversial mass arrest in 2002.
It started in 2009 when Strader ventured into the white filing cabinet in the D.C. police department’s Command Information Center. In a drawer, Strader confronted the usual mess of ketchup packets and other litter. But he also discovered three pristine books. One was “bluish in color” and “written on the cover in black marker were the words JOCC Activation Running Resume,” according to a report written by Strader that publicly posted — albeit briefly — last week.
The officer perused the book and realized it mentioned the September 2002 IMF and World Bank demonstrations — the same ones that had been at the center of a federal lawsuit brought by hundreds of protesters and bystanders who had been improperly arrested by police in Pershing Park.
Strader knew DC officials had been searching in vain for the “running resume” of the arrests, essentially a detailed log of police action, and now he thought he had discovered it. (He seemed perplexed that the logs were found in that particular cabinet, however. “There were some comments made in the CIC that the book must have been planted. . .because it could not have gone unnoticed in that drawer for so many years,” Strader wrote).
Strader, who joined the force in 1994, immediately turned the log over to his superiors, but not before others made clear that they wanted no part in its discovery. One supervisor “put his arms up in the air and pulled back from the table and stated, ‘I don’t want it,’” according to Strader’s written account.
“If I were you,” the supervisor continued, “I would wipe my fingerprints off it and put it in the mail” to the department’s general counsel, Strader wrote.
After turning over the record to a supervisor, Strader’s story became only more bizarre. A few weeks later, he was summoned to the office of Terrence Ryan, the department’s general counsel, where he was shown the book he had discovered. He later took Ryan and another lawyer on a tour of the Command Information Center. He even showed the lawyers where he had discovered the log book, according to the officer’s account.
Nearly two years later on Aug. 1, Strader wrote, he was sorting through files related to the Pershing Park arrests in a conference room when he was approached by Shana Frost, a lawyer for the D.C. Attorney General’s Office. He explained to Frost that he had turned over the log to Ryan and explained what it had looked like. The next day, he was summoned to Ryan’s office and shown another book. There was “no way shape or form” that the book was same one he had turned over a year earlier, Strader wrote.
Frost even asked Strader to draw a picture of the book, according to the officer.
The account of Strader’s discovery became public — but only for a few hours — on Friday when a federal judge posted the report on a public court docket. The judge, Emmet G. Sullivan, had received Strader’s report and an accompanying letter dated Aug. 31 from a top police union representative. The union rep, D.C. police officer Christopher Baumann, wrote that Strader had approached him because he felt he “had to speak up.”
In his letter to Sullivan, Baumann wrote that he believed that the D.C. lawyers were pressing Strader to change his story. “At that meeting Mr. Ryan and representatives from the District made several attempts to convince Officer Strader to misidentify the document he found and to alter his statements about the document,” wrote Baumann, chairman of the D.C. police labor committee for Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1. “Officer Strader believes the District is trying to intimidate him in an effort to influence his statements and is being intentionally deceptive about potential evidence in the Pershing Park case.”
The report and union letters were removed from the public docket soon after the D.C. government filed a motion seek to have it removed from the public record. The Post obtained a copy before the record was deleted from the computerized docket.
A spokesman for the D.C. attorney general’s office issued a statement Sunday evening:
“There is no merit to the allegations made by the FOP. The confidential and privileged communications between Officer Strader and attorneys for the District were in an effort to interview a potential witness regarding information provided to them. The District has filed a motion requesting that the Court strike Mr. Baumann’s letter and attachments from the record of the case. The document currently is not on the public record and given that the District has asked that it been stricken from the record, any further comment would not be appropriate.”
Lawyers for the four remaining plaintiff’s in the case — all college students at the time of their arrests — wrote that D.C. government lawyers were seeking to keep Strader’s report under wraps because it wanted to “prevent allegations of shockingly unethical, and potentially criminal, conduct of the District and its attorneys from reaching the public.”
Strader’s report is just the latest in a string of embarrassments in recent years for D.C. lawyers and D.C. police related to the Pershing Park arrests. The city has already reached settlements worth millions of dollars with most of those arrested by police in Pershing Park, and former D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey has publicly apologized for the detentions. City lawyers and police officials have been chastised by a federal judge for their poor handling of reports and evidence, which has either mysteriously vanished or been edited. Another federal judge is conducting an inquiry into what happened to those records, and he has held a series of hearings in which former and current top city and police officials provided a generally unflattering account of their actions over the years.
Then, just two months ago, D.C. lawyers disclosed that they had asked federal agents to investigate whether information was illegally deleted from an electronic police activity log documenting police actions during the arrests. The status of that investigation could not be determined.