Acting Atty. Gen. Peter Nickles

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When a D.C. cop speaks out unfavorably against the department, they can expect a little hostility in the workplace. Best case: they’ll get some kind of written warning. Worst case:  they’ll get transferred to a dull desk job. One thing they may not count on is a personal attack from Attorney General Peter Nickles.

In a recent court filing in the Pershing Park case, Nickles tried to shred Det. Paul Hustler‘s credibility by suggesting that the officer is a hothead with a vendetta against former Chief Charles H. Ramsey and current Chief Cathy Lanier.

What provoked Nickles’ bombast? Hustler had given a sworn affidavit in which he testified to hearing Ramsey give the order to make the mass arrests on Sept. 27, 2002. Not only that, Hustler stated that he and other officers knew the arrests were bad and wanted no part in the sweep of the park.

Nickles along with Robert Deso, who represents Peter Newsham in the Pershing Park cases, have pressed for Hustler to be deposed in an effort to take apart his version of events.

People who know Hustler say this is a bad idea.

“Paul is going to tell you the way it is and unfortunately a lot of people don’t like that particularly in today’s environment,” says Sgt. Leo Scully. “I’ve known Paul for 15 years and I can honestly say I ‘ve never known him to tell me anything but the truth…. He’s an absolute standup individual.”

Kristopher Baumann, the head of the D.C. Police union, says this is one fight Nickles will regret. “I think it is a serious miscalculation for the AG to attack his credibility,” he says. “If more officers and officials are interviewed on this matter, the truth will come out and Det. Hustler’s statements and what he remembers will be shown to be absolutely accurate.”

Baumann says that Hustler isn’t the only officer at Pershing Park to express misgivings on how the arrests were handled; he claims that the rank and file were “furious.”

Scully, who was not at Pershing Park, recalls rumblings among officers that Pershing Park had not gone according to their training. “It was always told to us that you leave the protesters an out,” he says. “You have to give them an out…. What they did at Pershing Park was contrary to what they had been training us.”

In the D.C. Council’s own investigative report [PDF], a number officers either testified or submitted reports up the chain of command that questioned the mass arrests at Pershing Park.

Fourth District CDU Captain Andrew Solberg submitted an October 12, 2002 after-action report which mirrored Hustler’s feelings on the scene:

“As a CDU Captain, I was not confident of the legality of our arrests.  I had been following the bicycle riders for their entire ride, and at no time did I ever hear or see any MPD officer give an order to clear sidewalks, streets or intersections, meaning that the charge of “Failure to Obey an Order” was not a valid charge.  That a great number of the Failure to Obey cases were no papered indicates the United States Attorney’s Office also felt uncomfortable with the charges and/or the arrests.   The Office of Corporation Counsel (OCC) did not paper (i.e., forward for prosecution) any of the Pershing Park arrests because, according to media reports, they “felt they had no probable cause to connect the protester to a particular crime[1].”

Four D.C. Police Department reports raised questions about the validity of the arrests. In an October 2, 2002 memo to Assistant Chief Alfred Broadbent, Commander Abraham Parks, then-Director of MPD’s Court Liaison Division, listed several reasons why prosecutors declined to go forward with the Pershing Park arrests:  “Officers showed up to paper cases and informed the papering attorneys they did not know why demonstrators were arrested.”

Here’s more testimony found in the Council’s report:

  • “One large underlying problem remains the fact that arresting officers arrive at the prisoner processing sites with what appears to be temporary amnesia.  Some officers state that they have no knowledge pertaining to the arrests.” – Assistant Chief Shannon Cockett, October 11, 2002 memo to Executive Assistant Chief (EAC) Michael Fitzgerald through Senior Executive Director Nola Joyce.
  • “Each CDU platoon should have a captain that is responsible for monitoring activities to ensure that arresting officers are made aware of the facts and circumstances leading to arrests and be able to identify same.” – Assistant Chief Brian Jordan, October 10, 2002 memo to EAC Fitzgerald.
  • “It is recommended that an in-house committee be established to conduct an extensive and immediate review of all the components of our mass arrest procedures and processes; the operational handbook be updated accordingly, and the related training be designed and provided.” – Commander Joe Griffith, October 11, 2002 memo to Assistant Chief Alfred Broadbent through EAC Fitzgerald.

*photo by Darrow Montgomery.

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