A dozen security guards for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are now wanted by D.C. police, who on Thursday declared them criminal suspects and accused them of attacking peaceful protesters during a visit to Washington last month.
Jumping into an international thicket while sidestepping questions over diplomatic immunity, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) called the May 16 melee outside the ambassador’s residence on Sheridan Circle a “vicious attack” and an “affront to our values.”
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said dignitaries and protesters take to District streets nearly every day, but “rarely have I seen in 28 years of policing the type of thing I saw in Sheridan Circle,” he said. “. . . We all saw the violence that was perpetrated against peaceful protesters, and it’s not something that we’re going to tolerate.”
Newsham read the names of each suspect to a room packed with media. Around him were placards with the word “WANTED” in red and photographs of the suspects. The men were identified, with the help of the State Department, by matching surveillance video from the fight to entry visas and passports. All are charged with various degrees of assault.
Erdogan, speaking in Ankara on Thursday, blasted the D.C. police. “They have issued arrest warrants for 12 of my bodyguards. What kind of law is this?” the president said, according to the semiofficial Anadolu news agency. “If my bodyguards cannot protect me then why am I bringing them to America with me?”
The president accused the demonstrators of being affiliated with a terrorist group, a charge they deny. He said they got too close to the residence and to him. “And the American police are not doing anything,” Erdogan said. “They are not touching them. Could you imagine what the attitude would be if something similar happened in Turkey?”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador after the charges were announced and said in a statement that the decision “lacks legal basis.”
It remains uncertain whether any of the suspects — members of the president’s formal security force, guards and Turkish police officers — will ever stand trial in the United States. Some of them had holstered handguns as they fought with demonstrators.
All returned to Turkey in the days after the visit, and Newsham referred questions about immunity and extradition to the State Department. The chief said he did know whether the United States has made a formal request for the guards to surrender, but he urged that they do so voluntarily.
Newsham said the guards would be arrested “if they attempt to enter the United States.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement the charges send “a clear message that the United States does not tolerate individuals who use intimidation and violence to stifle freedom of speech and legitimate political expression.”
The statement says officials will work with police and “determine if any additional steps will need to be taken.” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert would not say whether that meant the United States would seek extradition. “Our actions will be responsive and proportional to the charges,” she said, while promising that the suspects will be “held accountable.”
The demonstrations occurred during Erdogan’s visit to the White House and started on Pennsylvania Avenue, where a minor skirmish forced the Secret Service to separate Erdogan supporters and detractors. The group then moved to Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Avenue, outside the ambassador’s residence in Northwest Washington.
An arrest warrant says the attack came in two waves, the first just as Erdogan arrived at the residence in his motorcade. Police said Erdogan supporters rushed demonstrators upset over the president for consolidating power and jailing opponents. Punches were thrown, and police said an anti-Erdogan demonstrator was hit in the face with a flag.
Police separated the groups, but several minutes later, police said in court documents, Turkish security personnel in suits “pushed through” the police cordon and “commenced a second assault. . . . The pro Erdogan group appeared to rush across the street in a nearly simultaneous coordinated throng.”
Several videos captured brutal assaults in which demonstrators were stomped in the head and punched as police officers struggled to restore order. Some people were seen walking around dazed and bloodied; one man was knocked unconscious.
The court document notes that security guards were seen speaking into their communication devices seconds before the attack.
One video shows a man lean into a car in which Erdogan was sitting outside the residence, then signal to another man. The second man then heads toward the protesters. Things quickly become chaotic, and at one point Erdogan emerges from the car and watches the scene.
Newsham would not say whether Erdogan was investigated. “We don’t have any information right now to suggest we have probable cause to arrest the president,” he said.
In addition to the security guards, police filed warrants against four other people, two of them U.S. citizens from Virginia and New Jersey and two from Canada. The two Americans were arrested Wednesday.
The New Jersey resident is awaiting extradition to the District; the Virginia man appeared Thursday in D.C. Superior Court, where a judge ordered him detained until a hearing Friday on charges that include felony aggravated assault. Court documents allege Sinan Narin, joined by security guards and other pro-Erdogan civilians, beat a female demonstrator unconscious. His attorney argued that evidence was lacking, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Sonali D. Patel referenced video footage.
One victim, Ceren Borazan, a 26-year-old immigrant from Turkey who studies in New Jersey, said one of Erdogan’s security guards put her in a chokehold that popped a blood vessel in her left eye. Borazan — whose account is mirrored in the arrest warrant, which names the guard who allegedly attacked her — said she did not expect charges to be filed.
“This tells the Turkish government and other governments that their behavior will not be tolerated on American soil,” she said.
Dana Hedgpeth, Carol Morello, Anne Gearan, Keith L. Alexander and Perry Stein in Washington and Kareem Fahim in Istanbul contributed to this report.