City Desk

Pershing Park Case: Let’s Go To The Videotape!

Peter Nickles

On Feb. 8, plaintiffs in the last remaining Pershing Park case filed a request that would broaden the scope of the U.S. District Court's inquiry into the case's discovery abuse. Plaintiffs attorneys are asking the judge to look into the alleged issues with the D.C. Police Department's video coverage of the mass arrests at Pershing Park on Sept. 27, 2002.

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan is already set to hire a forensic examiner to determine how the running resume  (the department's own reported log of events) went missing, and how the department's radio dispatches went dead around the time the arrests were made.

The problematic video tapes turned over by the Office of the Attorney General may be the latest example of the discovery abuses. So far, AG Peter Nickles has thrown up some really lame excuses for why the video footage appears so corrupted.

The attorneys in the Chang case write:

"This video footage, produced in both videotape and DVD format, contains numerous anomalies that suggest it has been edited or otherwise tampered with. A forensic analysis of the original video recordings is, therefore, necessary to determine the origin and extent of any such modification or spoliation."

The District had recently testified that the video recordings had not been edited and were recorded by Sgt. Donald Yates. Yet, the District's witness, Inspector Brian Bray admitted that Yates could not have possibly filmed all the sequences since he appears in some footage.

Plaintiffs lawyers go one to dissect the video problems point by point. One of the most startling issues that has come to light is the government's use of "different time-stamps" and a "non-linear time progression." Lawyers also found that there is "an extended gap during the time of the mass arrests in Pershing Park."

The two different time stamps suggest that it's possible the tapes were altered or edited. "At worst, this discrepancy suggests that the IMF video footage has been edited and certain footage added or deleted," the plaintiffs lawyers write.

The lawyers go on to state that some of the video footage appears out of order, jumping back and forth through time (kind of like an episode of "Lost" D.C. Police-style):

"There is no apparent explanation as to how Sergeant Yates recorded events at 8:15 a.m., then traveled back in time and recorded events nearly an hour earlier from 7:21 a.m. to 7:23 a.m. and then returned to 8:15 a.m. and continued filming, unless the video has been altered."

There is also the problem with the gap in the tape. The video produced by the OAG "contains no video footage for a period of nearly 39 minutes (the longest gap in the Video other than that over the lunch hour) during which MPD and other law enforcement officers began mass arresting people in Pershing Park."

As the lawyers point out, um, this is the critical time period. It's astonishing that the government would even hand over such a video. According to the plaintiffs' filing, the District's explanation for the 39-minute gap is simple: Sgt. Yates was a really crummy director who may have been great at recording tons of b-roll of bored looking residents but failed to deliver at the crucial moment—the moment when his own department decided to arrest everyone in the park. The District has claimed that he was "distracted" and "wasn't aware the arrests had taken place."

Wow.

How could any police officer—let alone an official with a video camera—not realize that the arrests of 400 individuals were taking place?

The plaintiffs lawyers write: "the Court should order a forensic examination of the IMF Video to confirm that no video was recorded during this critical period of time."

*overused file photo by Darrow Montgomery.

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