D.C. Police Deny Trapping Inauguration Rioters

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Washington, D.C., paid $13.25 million in damages to protesters caught in a “trap and detain” maneuver in 2002 demonstrations in Pershing Park near the World Bank. During Inauguration Day protests, D.C. police arrested 230 demonstrators after corralling them. Defense attorneys are likening the treatment to the problematic mass arrests near the World Bank nearly 15 years ago, saying these protesters, too, were “trapped and detained” and then arrested without being given dispersal orders, the Washington Post reports. A lawyer who set up a legal hotline for demonstrators filed a lawsuit in federal court against D.C. police and U.S. Park Police alleging that the arrests were improper.

Law enforcement authorities say there are key differences. Unlike the Pershing Park demonstrators, police said Friday’s protesters went on a well-planned, four-square-block rampage with hammers and crowbars, breaking store and car windows, setting a vehicle on fire and causing destruction in excess of $100,000. Interim D.C. police chief Peter Newsham said that officers strategically maneuvered to get in front of the demonstrators with the goal of trapping them, but only after property had been destroyed. Sgt. Matthew Mahl, chairman of the police union, said that once violence occurs, “we don’t need to issue dispersal orders.” Mahl said that in Pershing Park, “we blocked them in on four sides and told them they needed to leave. But we didn’t give them a place to go.” Those defendants were charged with failing to disperse. During Friday’s demonstrations, Mahl said, officers corralled the protesters with the intent of arresting them. They were charged with rioting. Police noted that the group DisruptJ20 was well organized, had publicly threatened to shut down the presidential inauguration using violent means, and had pre­selected a core group of people willing to be arrested.

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