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Appeals court rejects police immunity from lawsuit

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON- A federal appeals court refused Friday to exempt two top police officials in the nation's capital from a lawsuit filed on behalf of nearly 400 people who were corralled at a city park and arrested during protests at the World Bank-International Monetary Fund annual meeting in 2002.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed a trial judge's ruling that said Metropolitan Police Assistant Chief Peter Newsham can be sued for violating the constitutional rights of the people who were arrested Sept. 27, 2002.

The panel said it could not determine whether Police Chief Charles Ramsey deserved immunity as a public official because it is unclear whether he knew what had happened in the park before his arrival.

Newsham ordered police officers to cordone off Pershing Park, about two blocks from the White House, after he observed some protesters committing acts of vandalism.

None of the vandals ever was identified. In addition, police failed to give two warnings to the crowd to disperse _ as required by department regulation _ before erecting the cordone and making arrests. The 386 people in the park were charged with failing to obey an officer.

"Undisputed evidence reveals that Newsham arrested an undifferentiated mass of people on the basis of crimes committed by a handful of individuals who were never identified," Judge Harry Edwards wrote in the unanimous decision.

"No reasonable officer in Newsham's position could have believed that probable cause existed to order the sudden arrest of every individual in Pershing Park," Edwards wrote.

Ramsey admitted that he "tacitly approved" Newsham's arrest plan. But the appeals court said it is unclear whether Ramsey knew the park had not been cleared of people who had not been seen committing vandalism.

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