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More than two years after the mass arrests at Pershing Park, Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and Assistant Chief Peter J. Newsham are still trying to sort out their respective stories. In two high-profile lawsuits still pending, they argued to a federal judge that they shouldn’t be held personally liable for the botched arrests of 400 demonstrators and passers-by, including unsuspecting bikers and nurses, on Sept. 27, 2002 (“Boss Hogtie,” 1/17/03). All they had to prove was that their actions that day were “reasonable.” Still, they fell short. In its ruling, the court held that Newsham and Ramsey can be held personally liable for the mass arrests.

Here are some of their curlicues and contretemps from last week’s ruling:


Newsham believed that some protesters had broken the law before entering the park—namely, by impeding traffic, knocking over trash cans, and disregarding police instructions.

Newsham claims law-abiding passers-by had “ample opportunity” to leave the park before being collared.

Ramsey was unaware that Newsham hadn’t given the crowd an order to disperse.

Ramsey maintains that Newsham told him they already had probable cause for a mass arrest.

Ramsey believes his reprimand of Newsham after the incident shows that he disapproved of his assistant chief’s actions.

The plastic handcuffs used on detainees were necessary to prevent “mass fornication.”


Newsham admits he couldn’t identify any specific people who’d allegedly committed these crimes.

The park was cordoned off, so leaving wasn’t an option.

Ramsey suggested otherwise in his original sworn testimony. Besides, this “begs the question” of why a chief wouldn’t think to ask as much.

It would be “unreasonable” for a chief to believe there was probable cause to arrest “everyone” in the park.

This “after-the-fact reprimand” doesn’t absolve Ramsey for his “failure to ask the questions that a reasonable police chief on the scene must ask.” [court’s italics]

“This rationale is flatly ridiculous.”