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Pershing Park evidence mishandled, probe finds

Washington Examiner
BYLINE: Michael Neibauer, Examiner Staff Writer,

Pershing Park, VA

An independent investigation of missing evidence tied to the September 2002 mass arrests at Pershing Park found that a detailed tally of D.C. police actions that day probably did exist but was either purposefully purged or lost.

Retired U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Sporkin called "troubling" the "contradictory evidence that surfaced" during his pro bono inquiry into the missing police running resume of the events of Sept. 27, 2002, and gaps in police radio recordings.

"The whole thing has been so ineptly handled and now we have pretty clear indications that some of it had to be intentional destruction," Ward 3 D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh told The Examiner on Monday. "I don't see how this can't be a disaster for the District."

D.C. police officers arrested hundreds of anti-World Bank protesters and innocent bystanders in Pershing Park, hog-tied their left wrists to their right ankles and detained them for up to 36 hours in some cases.

"We are particularly disturbed by the fact that not only have we been unable to retrieve a hard copy of the Running Resume but also that the electronic copy was purged from the system," Sporkin wrote in his report, dated Friday. "We have no way of knowing whether this was an act of intentional mischief or reflects a benign action."

That said, Sporkin found no evidence of any "overt attempt to deceive or mislead us."

Both the running resume and radio recordings would be key testimonials in a pair of lawsuits filed against the District alleging wrongful arrests. The cases are currently before U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who has admonished D.C. attorneys for their courtroom tactics and failure to turn over critical documents.

Only one person interviewed during Sporkin's investigation recalled seeing a copy of the running resume -- Rai Howell, former acting director of the Metropolitan Police Department's quality assurance division. But Howell could remember few other details.

Police Chief Charles Ramsey told investigators he was "99 percent sure" he did not see the running resume. George Crawford, a Metropolitan Police Department computer specialist, said it is "hard to believe" the document was "overwritten" in the system or that every hard copy was all destroyed.

Ramsey, who was alleged by a police detective to have ordered the mass arrests, also said he "knows nothing about the radio tapes and gave no instructions to edit or otherwise alter them." The tapes, Sporkin concluded, do have gaps but investigators were unable to discern how they occurred. He recommended that the District retain a forensic expert.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles Monday praised the investigation, but said he has not yet decided whether to follow through on Sporkin's suggestions.

"I just need to get a better understanding from [Sporkin] to understand how difficult it will be," Nickles said. "I don't know whether it's feasible or how much it costs."

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