Lawyers for the District have alerted the FBI and federal prosecutors to the attempted deletion of police data that is central to a civil rights suit over the mass arrest of people during a protest at a Washington park in 2002.
For years, the plaintiffs' lawyers and the city have quarreled in Washington federal district court over whether the data, a running log of police activity, was still available.
District lawyers said this year an outside contractor found the missing information, which the plaintiffs' team contends is important to its case. The city said recently it appears a person attempted to delete or hide the data, which was recovered on a back-up server.
News of the attempted deletion of the data incensed the plaintiffs’ lawyers, including a team from Bryan Cave in Washington and George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley. They called for an outside investigation, saying an internal police probe of the alleged misconduct was insufficient.
Lawyers for the District said in a brief (PDF) filed Wednesday night it’s not known whether the attempted deletion of the police data was intentional or accidental and the identity of the person remains unknown. The city urged Magistrate Judge John Facciola to reject the plaintiffs’ demand for protective and show cause orders.
“[T]he District of Columbia took appropriate steps at the time the attempted deletion was brought to the attention of the Metropolitan Police Department, and has now taken further steps to ensure that the matter is handled appropriately,” lawyers for the city said.
District lawyers said information about the attempted delection of data was referred to the FBI and to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for further investigation. The city’s lawyers also disputed the plaintiffs’ contention that the person was definitively a city police officer or official.
The city’s attorneys, including George Valentine, deputy attorney general for the civil litigation division, said the plaintiffs’ team is trying to “take on the roles of prosecutor, judge and jury” in alleging a crime may have been committed.
The plaintiffs’ declaration that the attempted deletion of the data was a crime, the District’s legal team said, “represents the kind of overstating and presumption that is to be avoided when facts and circumstances require more investigation.”
The significance of the data breach, the District said, will be explored through discovery and through the a special master’s investigation.