Mayor Muriel Bowser
Mayor Muriel Bowser Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

Mayor Muriel Bowser tussled with law-and-order Republicans this week, and came out of it worse for the wear.

In an unusual back and forth that started last weekend with President Donald Trump’s rebuke of her administration’s handling of the recent unrest on D.C. streets, Bowser has proclaimed herself a law-and-order mayor, praised her police department’s arrest of those she calls “outside agitators,” and blamed federal prosecutors for failing to bring the “agitators” to justice.

Bowser’s finger-pointing backfired when the Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin, whose office is responsible for prosecuting felony crimes in D.C., responded that the officers she so ardently defended made dozens of illegal arrests.

During a press briefing Monday, Bowser addressed Trump’s weekend tweets and criticisms of her handling of the unrest on D.C. streets.

“He considers himself Mr. Law and Order,” Bowser said. “He’s coming for the wrong team because we are for law and order too. We’re for D.C. residents living peacefully, D.C. residents speaking out for neighbors and friends demanding social justice, but we are for peace.”

Heronnor followed up with a letter to Sherwin, claiming that his office failed to prosecute 41 of the 42 people MPD arrested for rioting on Aug. 13 and 14.

And on May 30, Bowser’s letter continued, MPD filed 63 sworn statements supporting arrests and warrants, yet Sherwin’s office declined to prosecute 28 of those cases, while another 24 are “still pending review by your office” (emphasis Bowser’s).

She noted another eight arrests on Aug. 27 and 28, and 19 more fromAug. 9, 14 of which were for “felony rioting,” according to her letter.

“We are keenly aware of the difficulties in bringing successful criminal cases,” Bowser wrote. “However, we cannot let those difficulties prevent us from doing the hard work necessary to help ensure the safety of residents and visitors to our city.”

LL wonders what “difficulties” and “hard work,” the mayor is referring to. And it appears Sherwin is wondering the same.

“As I’m sure you are aware, without some evidence to establish probable cause of a particular arrestee’s criminal conduct—e.g. a police officer’s observation or video footage of the alleged crime—we cannot bring federal charges,” Sherwin wrote in response yesterday. “Surely, by your comments, you are not suggesting that this Office skirt constitutional protections and due process.”

His letter suggests Bowser’s “portrayal of the federal response to violence in the District as insufficiently vigorous seems to contrast sharply with your earlier criticism of the federal response in the District as overly aggressive.”

Sherwin says his office has charged more than 125 criminal cases from MPD since late May. If Bowser wants more people locked up, maybe her police department should make better arrests, Sherwin seems to suggest.

Specifically with regard to the 42 people arrested for rioting on Aug. 13 and 14, Sherwin noted in his letter that MPD did not provide any evidence to support probable cause for a crime.

The 42 people “were arrested as a collective by MPD and presented to the Office without any articulable facts linking criminal conduct to each individual arrested,” Sherwin wrote. “Simply put, we cannot charge crimes on the basis of a mere presence or guilt by association.”

The same goes for the 19 people that MPD arrested this past weekend, he added.

“MPD failed to provide the bare minimum of articulable facts linking the charged persons with alleged individual criminal conduct,” Sherwin wrote.

Bowser also cited eight arrests for assault on a police officer last Friday and Saturday as more evidence that the USAO was slacking.

“This is patently incorrect,” Sherwin wrote. His office received referrals for five of the eight cases for assault on police and charged four of them, he claimed. The three other people were issued citations and released.

Bowser’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to LL’s request for comment on Sherwin’s letter.

Sherwin’s claim that MPD officers are arresting people without sufficient evidence recalls similar actions taken during Trump’s 2017 inauguration. MPD used the controversial tactic known as “kettling” to arrest more than 230 people, according to news reports. Five of the arrestees were acquitted, and prosecutors dropped the charges against the rest, the Washington Post reported at the time.

The ACLU of D.C. also sued the District for actions related to those arrests. Theat case is still ongoing.

“It’s a sorry state of affairs when police and prosecutor feel they need to compete for the title of ‘toughest on crime’—a competition that we have seen over the years result in the scourge of mass incarceration and the decimation of communities of color,” ACLU legal director Scott Michelman says in an emailed statement.

Michelman’s statement says Sherwin’s letter “rightly calls out D.C. police for arresting people without ‘sufficient probable cause to support any criminal charge.’

“The mayor can paint all the roadways in the District, but when her police force repeatedly violates the constitutional rights of civil rights demonstrators, she shows the world how much she really thinks Black lives matter,” Michelman’s statement says, referring to Bowser’s decision to have “BLACK LIVES MATTER” painted on 16th Street NW near the White House.