D.C. Officials Pay $425,000 to Seven People Falsely Arrested at 2002 World Bank Demonstration

January 24, 2005 12:00 am

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In Letter of Apology, Chief Ramsey “Regrets Mistakes” by Police

WASHINGTON – In a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and legal advocates, the District of Columbia today agreed to pay $425,000 to seven people who were arrested at an anti-World Bank demonstration in Pershing Park in September 2002, and to expunge all records of their arrest and detention. In papers filed in federal court, the District also agreed to make numerous reforms in its policies for handling mass demonstrations, and D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey agreed to personally sign a letter of apology to each of the seven arrestees.

“In this country, the police are not supposed to arrest you unless you break the law,” said Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area. “But the evidence in this case showed that Chief Ramsey and the D.C. Police deliberately arrested hundreds of people who had not broken any law. Protecting the rights of demonstrators in our nation’s capital is vitally important, especially in this time of great controversy over government policy. This substantial settlement shows that the police cannot break the law with impunity and will help prevent similar lawless police conduct in the future.”

More than 400 people were arrested in Pershing Park on September 27, 2002. They were charged with failing to obey a police order, but the Police department later admitted that no order to disperse was ever given, and people who tried to disperse were prevented from leaving and were then arrested and detained for up to 30 hours in a “hogtied” position with their right wrists handcuffed to their left ankles.

The letter of apology to be signed by Chief Ramsey states: “You should not have been arrested or detained. On my own behalf, and that of the Government of the District of Columbia, we sincerely regret any hardship that our mistakes of September 27 and 28, 2002 may have caused you or persons close to you.”

In today’s settlement, the District agreed that future demonstrators “will not be arrested simply because the group does not possess a permit,” and that “before ordering or approving a mass arrest” the commanding officer “must verify ? that some means exist to match each person to be arrested with a specific offense which there is probable cause to believe that person committed.” The District also agreed that persons arrested at demonstrations will be processed and released “as expeditiously as possible” and that restraints will be used only when “reasonably necessary to maintain the safety of the arrestees and of MPD ? personnel, and to prevent escape,” and “shall not be applied in a manner that is excessively tight.”

Federal Judge Emmet G. Sullivan approved the settlement in a court hearing this morning, calling it “truly historic.”

The lawsuit that settled today, Abbate v. Ramsey, was filed in March 2003 by the ACLU of the National Capital Area, the National Lawyers Guild D.C. Chapter, and the law firm of Covington & Burling. The plaintiffs in the case were:

  • Julie Abbate, a local attorney and graduate of Howard Law School who was observing the demonstration when she was trapped in Pershing Park and arrested.
  • Christopher Downes, a demonstrator who did not resist arrest but whose ribs were broken when he was knocked down by police.
  • Joe Mayer, a retired United States Army lieutenant colonel, his daughter Alexis Baden-Mayer, and her husband, Adam Eidinger. Col. Mayer accompanied his daughter to the demonstration, in part to be sure she didn’t get arrested, but they both got arrested.
  • Mindi Morgan, a student at Howard University whose efforts to leave Pershing Park to get to her class were rebuffed by the closing net of police officers.
  • Tom Ulrich, a Maryland resident and grandfather who was trapped and arrested and detained for approximately 24 hours.

Most of the other persons who were arrested in Pershing Park that day are plaintiffs in two other pending lawsuits, including one class action. An additional class action lawsuit is pending on behalf of persons arrested that day in connection with demonstration activity on Connecticut Avenue and at Vermont Avenue and K Street.

After an investigation of the Pershing Park arrests and other recent MPD actions, the D.C. Council last month enacted the “First Amendment Rights and Police Practices Act of 2004” addressing many of the same issues. That bill is now on Mayor Williams’ desk; his deadline to sign or veto it is January 26.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs in Abbate v. Ramsey included S. William Livingston, Jr., Jarrett A. Williams and Thomas J. Cosgrove of Covington & Burling; Daniel M. Schember and Susan B. Dunham of Gaffney & Schember, P.C. (on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild, D.C. Chapter); and Spitzer and Fritz Mulhauser of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.

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