Washington, DC – On Thursday, November 30 the jury in Judge Lynn Leibovitz’s courtroom primarily heard from DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Commander Keith Deville, who was the ‘incident commander’ responsible for ordering, overseeing and coordinating MPD operations regarding inauguration protests on January 20 (J20). Deville has been with MPD for decades, was formerly an instructor in the use of OC spray, and personally helped draft many MPD policies which the defense alleges were not followed on inauguration day.

The case brought by Assistant US Attorneys Jennifer Kerkhoff and Rizwan Qureshi still seeks to focus on actions of property destruction that took place that day, despite their admission that none of the six defendants currently on trial participated in such acts.

The testimony of prosecution witnesses, as well as exhibits introduced into evidence, seem intended to support the government’s claim that the entire group is responsible for individuals’ acts of property damage. As hearings proceed in the first trial, cross-examination by the defense addressed issues around Deville’s character, quoting comments he made regarding Holocaust survivors and LGBT police officers, for which he had been disciplined by MPD Internal Affairs.

As cross-examination got underway, details of police tactics and commands on January 20th, 2017, also came under scrutiny. Six minutes into police radio chatter during the anti-capitalist antifascist march, Commander Deville and Assistant Chief Lamar Greene decided to switch from the radio to a phone call. It’s likely the mass-arrest was ordered in that call.

During Deville’s direct testimony, the prosecution also introduced several police body camera videos as evidence, which were then played back in part by the defense. One bike officer’s body camera showed him plowing at high speed into a protester from behind, forcefully knocking the person face down onto the pavement.

Other officers could be seen using batons to beat people who appeared to have been only standing in the street. Defense attorneys and supporters of the defendants have long alleged that the blanket felony charges are in part an effort to minimize civil litigation stemming from police brutality against people attending Trump inauguration protests.

Defense counsel spent a considerable amount of time poring over the DC Police Department’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for dealing with “first amendment activity.”

SOP documents introduced into evidence by the defense appear to require commanders to try to contact organizers of unpermitted protests to attempt to address any potential issues. Deville admitted on the stand he did not do so on January 20th before ordering a mass arrest.

The defense also pointed out that by Deville’s own words, MPD usually ‘facilitates’ unpermitted marches by doing ‘rolling road closures’. Defense pointed out that on January 20th, Deville, rather than ‘facilitating,’ deployed riot cops to the anti-capitalist and antifascist march before it ever left Logan Circle that morning. Deville also confirmed that officers could have instituted rolling road closures for the march, but had already decided not to.

Commander Deville also confirmed under questioning from the defense that he had decided to surround and arrest the entire protest march within its first few minutes. Deville was shown a copy of a checklist to be filled out by MPD commanders in the event of a “high-volume arrest” and confirmed that no such form was completed by himself or other command staff on inauguration day, despite the fact that he had ordered the mass arrest of over 200 people. He defended this and other choices by saying the arrests of all people in and around the anti-capitalist and anti-fascist march at 12th & L streets “weren’t high-volume arrests related to a First Amendment assembly. They were many arrests related to a riot.”

(Many parts of MPD’s policies for demonstrations were created to fulfill police obligations under the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act of 2004, a local law passed after DC police illegally mass-arrested over 400 people during protests against the International Monetary Fund, or ‘IMF’, in 2002.)

The defense then showed provisions of the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards of 2004, which says police must be able to identify & arrest specific people responsible for specific crimes before encircling a group. Deville asserted these provisions did not apply on inauguration day. He was also shown parts of DC Police Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) which mandate the reading of dispersal orders before surrounding a group of protesters. Deville admitted no dispersal orders had been given and again claimed the SOP did not apply to the anti-capitalist anti-fascist protest march.

The defense also played several police videos showing officers using batons to strike protesters and National Lawyers Guild legal observers in the back as they were walking away from officers. Deville said he considered these incidents to be a “correct” application of police tactics. Commander Deville was then shown MPD use-of-force guidelines governing the use of OC spray, which says officers must issue a warning before spraying, & should only use it under certain clearly established conditions.

Defense counsel then played several videos showing officers using large amounts of OC spray on protesters who were walking away from police with their backs turned. Deville was also shown a video of a stinger ball grenade being thrown into a group of protesters huddled together with backs to police, visibly traumatized & recovering from being heavily maced a moment earlier. Deville said the officers in the videos “showed restraint in my opinion.

Defense counsel then confronted Commander Deville with several incidents that would indicate his personal biases. Internal Affairs records show Deville, after being in a car of officers that passed the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, joked about holocaust survivor Raoul Wallenberg as “the one who got away” and repeated the joke multiple times while on duty.

When asked by the defense, Deville also admitted to telling other officers prior to an MPD staff meeting “Hey, Ben is gay. So watch what you say.” Another incident was also referenced in which Commander Deville was disciplined for comments he made about a ‘Sergeant Jessica’ of MPD’s GLLU (Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit). Deville admitted to MPD Internal Affairs to telling another officer,

‘I don’t know why I have to call him Jessica. I’ve worked with him for four years and called him Bill. Now I have to call him Jessica.’ – DC Police Commander Keith Deville, quoted in Internal Affairs records referenced by the J20 defense

Deville shrugged off his previous comments as jokes in bad taste that were made without “malice or maliciousness.” His cross-examination by defense attorneys was cut short as Judge Leibovitz ended court on Thursday, and is expected to resume on Monday, December 4.

(Title image credit: Beverly Hudnut, Twitter)


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