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Suit details D.C. police use of Navy equipment

WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia police department arranged to use U.S. Navy satellite communications and video equipment as it prepared for a large 2002 demonstration that resulted in about 400 arrests and multi-million-dollar legal settlements, according to emails, invoices and other documents that shed new light on the collaboration between law enforcement and the military.

This photo shows police at an April 20, 2002, demonstration during the IMF-World Bank spring meetings in Washington. The demonstrations resulted in about 400 arrests and multimillion-dollar legal settlements, according to emails, invoices and other documents.

Details about the arrangement with the Naval Research Laboratory are emerging as part of a lawsuit by people arrested 11 years ago during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings. Lawyers for the demonstrators and others swept up in the mass arrests cite the deal with the Navy, which caught a judge’s attention when a police officer testified about it last fall, as an example of overzealous police preparation and response to constitutionally protected protest activity.

“The incorporation of military and other assets is indicative of the District’s alarmist mentality leading up to these protests and ultimately the grossly unlawful conduct in the mass arrest itself,” plaintiffs’ attorney Jonathan Turley wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

Then-Police Chief Charles Ramsey has apologized as part of a settlement for the department’s handling of the demonstrations, which ended with arrests of protesters who were corralled in a city park and in some cases bound from ankle-to-wrist. A handful of plaintiffs remain, and a federal judge is investigating potential evidence tampering in the case, including allegations that someone tried to delete an electronic log of police communications from the weekend of the protests.

Both sides will submit written arguments in July.

The D.C. government agreed to pay the Navy nearly $30,000 for equipment that police said was needed to augment emergency communications and transmit data and video to a command post where officers were monitoring the demonstrations for problems or disruptive behavior, the documents show. The Associated Press obtained the documents through a public records request after asking a judge to modify a protective order that had kept them private.

The Navy technology — called the InfraLynx system — included trucks equipped with satellite dishes and antennae designed to make it easier for police in the field to transmit data from one location to another. Similar communications vehicles were also dispatched to a Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, according to a Navy website about InfraLynx.

A former D.C. police official said the Navy was contacted as a contingency and that he couldn’t recall the equipment being used. But the agreement reflects the anxiety police felt about demonstrations taking place in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and other unruly anti-globalization protests in Washington and other cities. It shows how police resorted to unusual approaches, seeking out high-tech communications equipment developed by the Navy for responding to emergencies and mass gatherings, ahead of the demonstrations.

“You’ve got to remember, Washington, D.C. was the nation’s capital. These people were coming to Washington threatening to destroy property,” Stephen Gaffigan, a former D.C. police technology specialist and the department’s point person with the research laboratory, said in an interview. “There’s going to be a tremendously heightened sense of security to protect those assets and protect the people.”

In a document justifying the arrangement, Gaffigan wrote the Navy equipment was needed to transmit “data and video from the World Bank venue” to the police command center. The satellite trucks were also intended to provide a secure link for communication, enabling officers closer to the crowds to share real-time intelligence and information with those at the command center.

The research laboratory drew up an invoice of $28,909, which the D.C. government approved, records show.

“There are no other sources available with this capability in the United States,” Gaffigan wrote at the time, adding that the Navy had agreed to provide free satellite transmission.

The deal was raised in court last November when a police officer assigned to the command information center testified that he had found documents showing that the Navy had agreed to use satellite technology to “beam video from the scene to the JOCC,” or Joint Operations Command Center, during the demonstrations.

Emails obtained by AP show police and city officials required little convincing that such equipment was needed.

Gaffigan suggested in one note that “it would be a very good idea for us to have this mobile capability available given what we may face during IMF and beyond.” Ramsey apparently agreed, telling a deputy mayor “this is needed for event.”

“Fine with me then,” replied the official, Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, who said in an interview that she recalled the technology as being for enhanced communications, but didn’t remember other details.

Ramsey, now police commissioner in Philadelphia, said he believed that the equipment was sought as backup in case police lost video or audio communications during the demonstrations. He said the department considered video of the crowd and surrounding city infrastructure essential to ferreting out any threats.

“This was a year after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and there was a great deal of concern about a major protest that close to that event,” Ramsey said Monday. “Terrorists could use a large-scale event to do something in Washington.”

Police also left open the door for additional research laboratory cooperation.

Used elsewhere

Besides the satellite arrangement, the research laboratory agreed to offer equipment, technology and training on a reimbursable basis over a five-year period to meet the department’s “support requirements and mission challenges,” according to a separate deal signed by Ramsey and a research laboratory representative and dated months after the IMF protests.

The Washington-based laboratory, which conducts scientific and technology, research for the Navy and Marine Corps, agreed it would evaluate what resources were available and whether they could be legally provided.

It was not clear what if anything became of that arrangement. Ramsey said he had no recollection of it, and current Police Chief Cathy Lanier said she was unfamiliar with it until being shown it by a reporter.

Gaffigan said the department ultimately found another way to transmit video and that he couldn’t recall the satellite uplink facility being used. Still, the InfraLynx website says the research laboratory provided “an extension of the Metropolitan Police Department’s private network” that weekend, and photographs show D.C. police officers posing and smiling next to a Navy satellite truck.

A satellite uplink facility was included in a “domestic preparedness” spending plan that budgeted for items including chemical masks, night vision scopes and a site visit to the New York Police Department, records show. Police used numerous cameras on buildings and in other locations to monitor the demonstrations, surveillance that has emerged as a focal point of the court case.

“These cameras were deployed in public places. We monitored public areas, not just the demonstrators, but the areas themselves in case we saw something suspicious,” Gaffigan said.

Lanier said while she doesn’t rely on local military bases for equipment, she’s always looking for the best possible technology for the department.

“I think there’s legitimate and valid reasons to look around at what technology is available,” she said.