- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Defense attorneys are demanding to see the e-mail messages of Metropolitan Police Department officers to see if they contain any information that could weaken criminal prosecutions against their clients.
The internal police probe that uncovered hundreds of racist, sexist and obscene messages between officers last month is giving fodder to the lawyers, who so far have sought records on four suspects charged with assault, weapons or drug crimes.
The police department is conducting a probe to find out which officers sent the messages, and the FBI and Justice Department are investigating for civil rights violations or hate crimes.
Defense attorneys have yet to come up with anything to help their cases.
A review of messages sent by 10 officers involved in two of the criminal cases yielded no offensive or inappropriate comments, said Channing Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District.
A "labor intensive" review of messages by officers for two other cases is under way, he said.
If the search uncovers prejudicial comments by the arresting officers, the drug and weapons charges could be dismissed against two suspects.
Antonio Knight, 26, of the 1000 block of Fourth Street SE could receive a life sentence if convicted on charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine while armed and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, according to D.C. Superior Court records.
Jonathan Roque, 19, of Hunnington, N.Y., is charged with marijuana possession and possession with intent to distribute cocaine, court records show.
Mr. Knight's attorney, Herbert Gutterman, did not return a message left by The Washington Times yesterday seeking comment. Mr. Roque's attorney could not be reached for comment.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday he was not surprised that defense attorneys are looking into the messages.
"Defense attorneys are doing what defense attorneys do they're fishing to see what they can find. That's what they're paid to do," the chief said.
Chief Ramsey said the messages could "potentially" damage cases and create credibility problems.
But the chief said it is wrong to stereotype the entire department based on the language some officers use.
"We don't have a racist police department here in D.C.," he said. "We've got a few officers whose behavior we don't like. That is truly a minority of people.
"What's worse is this tarnishes all the rest of the officers, and now their credibility and integrity is being challenged."
Chief Ramsey also gave the first assessment of how widespread certain kinds of remarks are.
After the initial reports about the e-mails, critics said the news vindicated their claims that the department had a racism problem.
As investigators slog through the millions of messages, they are finding the e-mails mostly contain profanity and "absolutely no racial remarks," Chief Ramsey said.
"There's some banter back and forth, there's swear words. That is the majority of it. That's what swells those numbers. It's not directed at someone. It's locker room talk is what it is."
He reiterated earlier remarks that violators will receive a range of punishments depending on the content of their messages.
"Poor language, you know, we don't condone it and it's not professional. At the same time, you're not going to fire someone for swearing," Chief Ramsey said.
Those who slurred minorities, women or homosexuals will receive more severe punishments, while officers who are found to have committed racial profiling or violated civil rights could face criminal charges, he said.
About 350 officers who sent messages with racist, sexist and vulgar language in the past year are being investigated.

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