The Pershing Park Case: Did A District Official Commit Perjury?
Last week, news broke out of U.S. District Court regarding the troubling Office of the Attorney General's handling of a Pershing Park civil suit. The judge in that case called on the D.C. Council to open an investigation into alleged OAG wrongdoing and ordered AG Peter Nickles to submit a sworn statement explaining why potential evidence had disappeared, and why more critical evidence was still being uncovered and turned over after discovery began five years ago.
One of the most troubling pieces of evidence that Nickles needs to explain is the faulty police department radio recordings. And why his office submitted a blatantly false affidavit concerning those recordings? And after the affidavit was proven to be false, why city lawyers did not withdraw the affidavit or correct it?
One of the essential ways to review any disputed police activity is to listen to the dispatches over the various radio channels between the officers involved, the dispatcher, and the officers' superiors. These radio recordings provide a play-by-play of events in real time. On the morning of September 27, 2002, four hundred people were arrested in Pershing Park without probable cause, and without proper warning. Five years ago, Pershing Park plaintiffs' lawyers requested the radio runs hoping to document how those mass arrests could have happened.
The radio runs would not only provide crucial evidence that might help their case. But more importantly, the tapes would shed light on how such a mass arrest could have been made and how to prevent such arrests from happening again.
So far, the plaintiffs' lawyers have yet to receive the full D.C. Police Department radio recordings from that day.
Over time, the AG's lawyers have provided different sets of recordings. In each case, the recordings are missing the moments leading up to the mass arrests and the mass arrests themselves. The gaps show up on all the radio channels, on all the recordings provided.
Instead of investigating why there were these mysterious gaps, the AG's lawyers defended the recordings as proper. How did they do such a thing? They produced a sworn affidavit.
On November 16, 2007, Denise Alexander, a then-training instructor with D.C.'s Office of Unified Communications, submitted a sworn affidavit concerning the radio runs. In her statement [PDF] to the court, she claimed that she reviewed the tapes:
"On November 15, 2007, I was directed to review a number of audiotapes that were provided by Ronald Harris, Deputy General Counsel of MPD. These cassette tapes were labeled as being recordings of communications from various MPD radio zones on September 27, 2002, and at various times.
I, along with dispatchers Marcia King and Tammie Creamer listened to the tapes to ascertain whether there was anything out of the ordinary concerning the recordings, including gaps in transmissions, equipment and unaccounted for periods of time."
What was Alexander's conclusion? The tapes were fine. There were no gaps. She stated:
"I did not detect anything technically deficient with the recordings....There is nothing unusual or deficient about this transmission or recording. Marcia King and Tammie Creamer both indicated to me that they did not detect anything unusual about the recordings they were given to review."
Plaintiffs' attorneys were not satisfied with Alexander's conclusions. On December 12, 2007, they deposed D.C. Police Inspector James Crane and examined the tapes with him.
The attorneys asked Crane to respond to Alexander's sworn statements. The D.C. Police official stated in his deposition [PDF] that Alexander's affidavit was false:
"I believe that there is an issue that not all the recordings are present. The question is whether the copies were done incorrectly, and they can be further provided, or was the recording system, did they make a mistake. Yes, I think there are some issues with it. I don't have enough information to render a judgment as to if it was technically deficient or there was human error, but I do recognize there's an issue with the lack of recordings."
Plaintiffs attorney Carl Messineo then asked that the OAG attorney to withdraw Alexander's affidavit in light of Crane's testimony:
"I'm requesting that the District of Columbia withdraw from the record or strike from the record the erroneous or false representations that were submitted to the court in the declaration of Denise Alexander."
The OAG lawyer refused: "Note for the record that Ms. Alexander made the declaration under the penalty of perjury, and she's indicated that the foregoing is true and correct. And that's noted for the record."
Crane went on to state that shortly after the Pershing Park arrests, the District government directed that the radio runs be preserved. The directive was given by Ronald Harris, a deputy general counsel with the D.C. Police Department. Crane stated in his deposition:
"I received a request from Ronald Harris to produce the audiotapes.... I thought I preserved them and I did not take any other steps other than producing them from Ronald Harris."
This afternoon, City Desk contacted Denise Alexander and asked her about her affidavit.
"I can't even remember that," Alexander said. She then referred calls to D.C. Police's general counsel's office. Alexander is no longer an instructor with the Office of Unified Communications. She now works in OUC's Quality Assurance branch.
*photo by Darrow Montgomery.