Pershing Park Case: Charles Ramsey Enters The Evidence Hall of Fame
Last week, it was announced that former Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles Ramsey will be inducted into the inaugural class of George Mason University's Evidence-Based Policing Hall of Fame. George Mason's version of a policing Cooperstown hailed the former chief with a lengthy bio, concluding on its website:
"A nationally recognized innovator, educator and practitioner of community policing, Commissioner Ramsey is known to refocus police departments on crime fighting and crime prevention through a more accountable organizational structure, new equipment and technology, an enhanced strategy of community policing and, since September 11, 2001, new approaches to homeland security and counter-terrorism."
Unfortunately, Ramsey is also known for mass arrests at Pershing Park on Sept. 27, 2002 that had nothing to do with accountable organizational structures and enhancing strategies for community policing. Just as his induction was announced, a magistrate judge in U.S. District was setting up the possibility that Ramsey just might go down in history as the Mark McGuire McGwire of police chiefs. U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola announced that he plans to personally question Ramsey—and many other police and OAG officials—in the court's long-running probe into missing and doctored evidence in the Pershing Park case.
At a status hearing yesterday in his second-floor courtroom, Judge Facciola outlined three possible penalties Ramsey and the others could face: perjury, obstruction of justice, and destruction of evidence. In his order outlining the inquiry, Judge Facciola writes that Ramsey and Co. should "be advised of their constitutional right not to incriminate themselves."
Ramsey is definitely not in the clear.
At the conclusion of Facciola's inquest, the entire matter could end up being investigated anew by the Feds. Ramsey has already come under considerable scrutiny for his deposition testimony in which he swore he did not order the mass arrests at Pershing Park on Sept. 27, 2002; several police officials testified that they heard Ramsey give such an order. But the thrust of Facciola's inquiry will focus on the missing or doctored evidence which includes police radio recordings that go blank during the period in which the mass arrests took place, missing video evidence of police activities, and the missing running resume—the official log of all police activities that day. Other bits of a messy discovery process could enter into the investigation.
Walking into Facciola's courtroom yesterday, Ramsey's attorney Mark Tuohey expressed total confidence that his client is no slugger who suddenly came up short under oath like McGuire McGwire. "He has nothing to worry about," Tuohey said. "But he will comply with whatever the court wants."
The magistrate judge wants: Definitive answers as to how so much critical evidence could go missing in such a high profile case. The cases is already deep into extra innings. The judge is embarking on an investigation that has stymied veteran judges and talented plaintiffs attorneys. The Partnership for Civil Justice, plaintiffs attorneys in one of the Pershing Park cases, first discovered the evidence abuses years ago. Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan went ballistic last summer over their findings. By the end of the year, Retired Judge Stanley Sporkin issued his own report on Pershing Park in which he could not exonerate any police official of wrongdoing [PDF]. Now, it's Facciola's turn.
Facciola, who was appointed to look into Pershing Park this past March, will most likely key on three attorneys who handled or mishandled the case (and the evidence): Office of Attorney General lawyer Tom Koger, MPD's top attorney Terrence Ryan and his deputy Ron Harris. Koger has been removed from the case having already come under scrutiny. The FOP has raised concerns about Ryan. Harris may have penned a false affidavit in the case. Testimony before Judge Facciola is set to begin Oct. 12.
And of course, there's Ramsey. What did he know? When did he know it? And how did evidence—the radio transmissions, the computer files, and the videotapes—get destroyed, lost or altered?
The one thing we know is how the former chief got into GMU's hall of fame. According to Cody Telep, a GMU grad student, Ramsey had been nominated by two professors—one who worked with Ramsey in Chicago, and another who works with him now in Philly where Ramsey is the city's police commissioner. No one from D.C. participated in the nomination process.
Telep tells City Desk that he knows nothing about Pershing Park. And it wouldn't be a matter of particular concern for the Hall. "Our hall of fame is more about rigorous scientific evaluation. It's about using science in policing," he says. "That's not as relevant to the specific qualifications for the hall of fame. I don't know the details of the case so that I can't comment on that."
*file photo by Darrow Montgomery.