City Desk

Pershing Park Case: Sporkin Report Reviewed In Detail

StanleySporkin

Late last Friday, Ret. Federal Judge Stanley Sporkin's investigative report [PDF] on Pershing Park was made public. The long-awaited document totaled 18 pages and included findings based on interviews with 14 individuals. Legal Times declared the report's conclusions "fairly modest." The report found  no smoking gun, WaPo observed. After a quick read of the report, we found much to admire in its findings.

On closer inspection, the Sporkin Report includes startling new testimony and/or conflicting statements from witnesses. The report will surely not be the last word on the missing evidence.  Let's review.

Sgt. Douglas Jones had previously testified that the running resume for the mass arrests in Pershing Park on Sept. 27, 2002 had to exist. Jones had stated that there were at least a dozen hard copies made along with two electronic copies. AG Peter Nickles had previously tried to marginalize Jones' testimony. Sporkin does no such thing.

For Sporkin, Jones elaborates further on the running-resume issue. The report states:

"Sgt. Jones said that Neil Trugman, his superior at the time, came to him around October or November 2002 and asked for the file location for the Running Resume, how to access the system, and the username and password. Trugman further asked that the information not be emailed.

Sgt. Jones found this to be unusual because no one had asked in the past for such directions. Sgt. Jones believes (but is not certain) it was at this time he provided Mr. Trugman with a hard copy of the September 27, 2002 Running Resume along with the requested directions."

Jones' testimony cries out for further inquiry. Trugman, Sporkin notes, "has no recollection of these events."

Jones states that for the running resume not to be on some MPD server is unusual. "For this to happen he said it had to be intentionally erased," Sporkin wrote. "He, however, had no basis to say that it was done for an improper purpose. No one was able to give us a reason as to its disappearance from the system."

The document destruction narrative extends beyond Jones' testimony in the Sporkin Report.

The running resume—a minute by minute accounting of police activity—was generated within the D.C. Police Department's command center. During Pershing Park, Stephen Gaffigan was charged with overseeing the day-to-day operations of the command center. Cecilia Tilghman, Gaffigan's personal assistant, stated in the Sporkin report that documents were destroyed.

After Gaffigan left the department, Tilghman believed that Rai Howell, the command center's interim director, "threw away lots of Mr. Gaffigan's materials," the report states.

Howell, the report states, "denied destroying any of Mr. Gaffigan's records." But then Howell confirms that a running resume existed for Pershing Park:

"She went on to say that she can specifically remember seeing the September 2002 Running Resume in hard copy. She could not recall when she saw it or remember anything specific about it. Ms. Howell also believes that after the event copies of the Running Resume were delivered to the Department's top officials."

Sporkin also interviewed George Crawford, a computer specialist with the D.C. Police Department. In the report, Crawford affirms Jones' testimony as well, stating that it was standard practice for at least 15 hard copies of the running resume to be sent to Mr. Gaffigan. Crawford found it "hard to believe" that the running resume had been erased from the computer system.

Crawford also admits to destroying documents at Howell's request. The admission, as recounted in the Sporkin Report,  is a stunner:

"Rai Howell asked Mr. Crawford to discard boxes containing materials formerly belonging to Mr. Gaffigan, when he, Gaffigan, left. Mr. Crawford stated that he didn't look at the documents or the tapes, but simply did as he was told. He shredded the papers and hit the tapes with magnets as instructed. Rai Howell denies giving any such instruction."

The report details former-Chief Charles Ramsey's recollections when called by Sporkin and Co. Ramsey stated that he is 99 percent sure he never saw the running resume and never instructed anyone to destroy such a document or the radio tapes. He went on to speak very highly of Gaffigan, Trugman, and Jones. "The Chief was impressed with Sgt. Jones," the report states. "He said it was Sgt. Jones who came up with the idea for creating the Joint Command Center."

The report moves on to discuss the gaps in the radio tapes from Sept. 27. Sporkin leads with two admissions from District lawyers. Both OAG attorney Tom Koger and D.C. Police Department lawyer Ron Harris admitted that they never listened to the tapes prior to handing them over to plaintiffs lawyers.

What lawyer doesn't review evidence they are turning over to opposing counsel?

As for whether there are large gaps or small gaps on the radio tapes, this is still a matter of some debate. Sporkin called for the District to hire an outside expert to review the tapes.

One person Sporkin's staff could not interview was Denise Alexander. Alexander had previously submitted an affidavit in the Pershing Park cases declaring that the radio tapes contained no gaps. Her testimony was later contradicted by a police official. Sporkin was told that she was on "personal leave."

This morning, City Desk found Alexander at her desk at the District's Office of Unified Communications. When asked why she had failed to meet with Sporkin, she put us on hold and then passed us on to another OUC staffer. "We're in the middle of something," the staffer said. "She's unwilling to speak with you."

There may be enough evidence in the Sporkin Report to start calling for federal law enforcement to finally investigate. Councilmember Mary Cheh believes the case should be sent to the feds.

Plaintiffs attorney Jonathan Turley tells City Desk: "The report reaffirms the positions of the plaintiffs, this evidence was presumptively destroyed on purpose and that it was not accidental....The report contains glaring conflicts in the statements of District officials. Those allegations and those conflicts will have to be addressed in a future investigation as well as discovery in this case."

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  • Simon

    "What lawyer doesn't review evidence they are turning over to opposing counsel?"

    In my experience -- PLENTY more than you'd imagine.

  • Truth Hurts

    Great job following this nightmare, CP. And Simon: you're right, some lawyers don't review evidence before they produce it. They're supposed to, though. Sort of like cops are supposed to have probable cause before making arrests.

  • Former Staffer

    Conduct a citizens arrest.

  • 1intheKnow

    What lawyer doesn't review evidence [he is] turning over to opposing counsel?

    One whose caseload/workload is so overwhelming that he simply doesn't have the hours in the day. Or the requisite associates or support staff to whom to delegate such an important yet time-consuming task. Or the ability to hire such an associate or support staffer. Thus, one who has to choose among compelling priorities, and to hope that he is able to attend to the most pressing matters without inadvertently overlooking something equally important. In other words, an attorney employed by the DC Government.

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