D.C. Officer on Desk Duty After Allegedly Hitting Protester

By David A. Fahrenthold and Manny Fernandez
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 15, 2003; Page B02

A D.C. police officer accused of hitting an antiwar demonstrator several times with his nightstick Saturday has been placed on desk duty while his actions are investigated.

The officer, whom police did not identify, was shown on WRC-TV (Channel 4) appearing to strike the man, Marc Frucht, as Frucht was held down by other officers. Police officers at the scene have said that Frucht ignored three orders to get on the sidewalk, then resisted as officers attempted to handcuff him, according to Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham, who heads the department's internal affairs division.

Frucht, however, said yesterday that he was tackled by police after taking photographs of other officers who were handling a demonstrator roughly. His attorney, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, said Frucht suffered welts and bruises and was later taken to the hospital by police.

Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney for the D.C.-based Partnership for Civil Justice, said that police attacked marchers without cause three times Saturday and that dozens of marchers were injured in the confrontations.

But Newsham said the incident involving Frucht is the only one of the weekend that has spawned an internal investigation. The city's Office of Citizen Complaint Review had received no complaints as of yesterday about police actions during the weekend's three major events, which drew thousands of people.

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said there might be "training issues" raised by the officer's conduct, but he also said that officers were in a tense situation and that demonstrators threw rocks and spit at them during the protests.

"Certainly we'll listen to what the officer has to say" and then make a decision, Ramsey said. "But I'm not just going to hang this guy out to dry just because someone made an allegation."

The antiwar coalition International ANSWER organized a rally and march Saturday to oppose the U.S. occupation in Iraq. Police estimated that as many as 30,000 attended. Marchers left a rally at Freedom Plaza, at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, about 2:30 p.m. The march route spanned several blocks of downtown, targeting companies that activists say stand to profit from the war and media outlets whose coverage they criticize.

Verheyden-Hilliard said marchers were hit by officers with nightsticks three times Saturday, including once on Ninth Street NW near the main public library and later on 18th Street near the rear of the march.

The incident involving Frucht, 39, of Milwaukee, happened on 18th Street near K Street when the march was almost over. Frucht said he was trying to take photos of a woman he said he saw being attacked by police. He said an officer on a bicycle then told him to leave the area.

As Frucht turned to leave, he said, a group of officers tackled him. He said he was struck repeatedly by at least one police baton.

"I remember vividly three hits, and I began praying, 'I hope this stops soon,' " said Frucht, who added that he did nothing to provoke the officers. "I feel like it was beyond excessive force. . . . It felt like an act of wilding."

Police said the video aired by WRC-TV Saturday night appears to show the officer with two hands on his nightstick, poking at Frucht's head six or seven times while Frucht lay on the pavement. Afterward, the video shows Frucht with a red mark on his head, apparently where he was struck. Frucht was one of three people arrested during the march.

Newsham said investigators from the department's Civil Rights and Force Investigation Team -- on standby during the protests -- responded to the scene shortly after the incident. After watching the footage later that day, he said, they were able to identify the officer involved.

The officer has consulted with an attorney and made a statement to investigators. He is now in "non-contact" status, without dealings with the public, Newsham said.

Newsham said that after completing their investigation, police will hand the case over to the U.S. attorney's office. If the U.S. attorney declines to prosecute the officer, he said, the department will consider taking administrative action against him.

© 2003 CopyLeft Marc Frucht
Captured for historical purposes under fair use.

Click here for a short video clip of the beating.
And here for audio and transcript of same (in case you can't see a .mov with your system.)