As part of an investigation into allegations of mishandled evidence from mass arrests in 2002, a former lead attorney for the District of Columbia testified today that while some information wasn't disclosed right away to the court and plaintiffs, she never intended to withhold it indefinitely.
Today's testimony from Monique Pressley, a former senior assistant attorney general in the Office of the Attorney General, was the latest in a series of recent hearings on how police and city officials dealt with certain evidence, especially an electronic record of police activity during the arrests.
On November 28, a computer technician testified that when he found the electronic police activity record on May 3, 2011, he saw that someone had used the "delete" function. But because the "delete" function actually moved the file elsewhere in the system, he could recover it. Pressley said today that the court and plaintiffs' counsel weren't told about the so-called deletion until July 12, 2011, because she hoped they could hear it directly from the technician.
The city faced a slew of lawsuits following arrests in downtown Washington during protests against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in 2002. Most claims settled, but the still-pending case detoured in recent years into an investigation into whether police or other officials destroyed, concealed or otherwise tampered with evidence. U.S. District Magistrate Judge John Facciola has been serving as a special master overseeing that investigation.
After learning about the attempted deletion, the parties sparred for months over whether Pressley and other lawyers could be required to testify or whether it would violate privilege. Facciola found that his need to know what happened, and the fact that there was no other way besides their testimony, outweighed privilege concerns.
Pressley testified today that she took over the case in 2009. She said the computer technician told her on May 3, 2011, that the "delete" button was used, but that he was confident all the information in the file was still there. The fact the file had moved explained why an earlier attempt to search the server for information was unsuccessful, she added. She also repeatedly objected today to the term "deletion," arguing that while the function was called "delete," it was a misnomer because the file was preserved.
City lawyers arranged a call with the court and plaintiffs' counsel for the following day, May 4, to let them know they had found the police activity report. She said she didn't think it was necessary to disclose the attempted deletion because the technician would discuss it when he testified and she didn't want to paraphrase.
Facciola asked Pressley whether she was concerned that by not disclosing the deletion issue she might invite criticism from plaintiffs' counsel, since allegations of evidence tampering were already on the table. She said she only felt an obligation to properly represent her client, the city. She said there was never any explicit discussion among the lawyers about withholding information, but that they just agreed by consensus what they needed to discuss during the call.
P.J. Meitl, an associate at Bryan Cave and lawyer for the plaintiffs, asked her whether she was concerned that the attempted deletion represented a potential criminal action, noting that the police department brought in an internal affairs detective once it was discovered. She said she didn't remember her thought process, but that the discovery of the file, and not the deletion, was her priority at that time.
Pressley's testimony ended at noon and is scheduled to continue January 9. She is being represented by Natalie Ludaway of Washington's Leftwich & Ludaway.