Detective says chief ordered mass arrests

AP News
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Posted: Nov 18, 2009 5:33 PM

A police detective alleges that former Washington Police Chief Charles Ramsey, despite past denials, ordered mass arrests of hundreds of demonstrators who were protesting annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in 2002.

Ramsey, now the commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, has given inconsistent statements over the years on the arrests, saying repeatedly, including twice in sworn statements, that he did not order them. He said an assistant chief of police did so.

Lawyers for some of the former protesters say in court papers filed Wednesday that the city has improperly withheld some documents and may have destroyed other evidence that would explain who ordered the arrests of over 400 people on Sept. 27, 2002.

The court papers ask a federal judge to order the city to pay a punitive penalty of $500,000 and to pay attorneys fees and costs in the 7-year-old lawsuit.

The lawyers for the demonstrators say that a running written police log of what took place that day has been destroyed and that audiotapes of the events have been edited.

The arrests became a political controversy in Washington because police funneled the protesters into a park, refused to let anyone out and then apprehended everyone. Some said they were hog-tied in stress and duress positions for 24 hours on a police gym floor.

Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham took the responsibility for ordering the arrests, which led to an official reprimand for failing to follow guidelines in a police handbook.

In the lawsuit, Ramsey testified that the reprimand was probably removed from Newsham's file after three years. Ramsey said he didn't "believe there was any corrective action or disciplinary action warranted. ... because my feeling was then _ and it is now _ that he acted in good faith, that he did not intentionally cause any or commit any violations of people's rights."

Ramsey said that Newsham "didn't lose any responsibilities as a consequence of this mass arrest" and that he is "one of the best members that the department has ever had."

The most significant disclosure in the newly filed court papers was information from a sworn affidavit by D.C. Detective Paul Hustler.

The detective said he was standing five to six feet away from Ramsey and heard the chief say _ as Hustler paraphrased it _ we're going to lock them up and teach them a lesson.

In early 2003, a District of Columbia city council member asked Ramsey, "You were not a part of that decision-making yourself" to take everyone into custody?

"No," the chief replied. "When I came up on the scene, actually, that was already practically in progress."

Ten months later at a December 2003 city council hearing, Ramsey conceded that he did approve the decision to arrest the demonstrators.

But in a sworn deposition in the protesters' lawsuit in September 2007, Ramsey said "no, it's not correct" when he was asked whether he had approved the arrests.

Confronted with his concession in December 2003 to the city council, Ramsey said that he had approved of the decision to make the arrests.

However, "I didn't say that I approved the arrests," said Ramsey, declaring that the assistant chief of police made the decision. "I have stated before that I approved of his decision, which is different than me approving the arrests ... In my mind, I believe those to be two different things."

This week, the city tried to block the planned questioning of detective Hustler, but U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered it to go forward. The detective's affidavit summarizes what he would say when questioned.

On Wednesday, Jonathan Turley, one of the lawyers representing the demonstrators, said that the detective's affidavit raises "obviously serious and disturbing questions for the court and counsel."