Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The story behind the July Fourth arrest of Marion Barry devolved in competing press statements Monday into the kind of sordidly jumbled tale that seems to swirl around the former mayor.

A surrogate for the D.C. Council member came forward in the morning to explain the events of Saturday night, when Mr. Barry was arrested by U.S. Park Police after a female acquaintance accused him of stalking her in Anacostia Park.

The attorney for Mr. Barry said his client denies stalking anyone.

“We believe that the charge is baseless,” attorney Frederick D. Cooke Jr. said at the news conference outside city hall. “We believe that the charge stems from a personal relationship that has gone horribly wrong in a lot of ways and has resulted in one party to that relationship striking out at Mr. Barry.”

Mr. Barry attended the news conference but did not speak.

Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, the woman he is accused of stalking, said in a lengthy statement of her own that Mr. Barry has been stalking her — but she seemed to deny that she asked officers to arrest him.

“It is senseless to publicly and ‘officially’ accuse Marion of stalking after having a meal with him an hour earlier,” Mrs. Watts-Brighthaupt said in the rambling news release.

In the statement, she also bemoaned her daughter’s delinquent private school tuition, recommended to all elected officials the Doris Kearns Goodwin book “Team of Rivals,” and expressed her hope that a gay couple take up residence on her block.

She also referred to Mr. Barry’s history with Park Police, which includes two other arrests in recent years.

Mr. Barry was arrested by a Park Police officer in 2002 after traces of marijuana and cocaine were found in his parked car at Buzzard Point.

No charges were filed, and Mr. Barry said the drugs were planted.

In 2006, a Park Police officer stopped him for driving too slowly and ticketed him for operating a vehicle on a suspended license. Charges were later dropped after it was confirmed his license had not been suspended.

“It would be incorrect to infer any nexus between the events of July Fourth and any previous contacts Mr. Barry or anyone had with the U.S. Park Police,” spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser said.

Natalie Williams, a spokeswoman for Mr. Barry, said Sunday that Mr. Barry had helped Mrs. Watts-Brighthaupt financially during “various stages of instability” in her life and characterized her as “troubled.”

In her statement, Mrs. Watts-Brighthaupt shot back at Ms. Williams — who she said gave an untrue account of events — and Mr. Barry.

“I am disappointed that Marion chose to label me troubled. Any challenge life has tossed my way is faced head on with the full support of my family and true friends. I may or may not have a little more challenges than the average American, but this Ward 8 household’s strength, resilience and support sustains me.”

Mrs. Watts-Brighthaupt has said in published reports that she and Mr. Barry dated for about six months before breaking up in February.

Mr. Barry is still married to his fourth wife, Cora Masters Barry, from whom he has been estranged for years.

In a brief telephone conversation with The Washington Times, Mrs. Watts-Brighthaupt said she stands behind her account of events as reported on the Web site of the Washington City Paper, which states that she never asked the Park Police to intervene or arrest Mr. Barry.

Park Police officials say Mrs. Watts-Brighthaupt flagged down an officer near Good Hope Road and Anacostia Drive at about 8:45 p.m. Saturday in Southeast and said that Mr. Barry was harassing her and wouldn’t leave her alone.

Mr. Barry, 73, was arrested after an officer established probable cause. He was charged with misdemeanor stalking and released, Sgt. Schlosser said.

The City Paper Web site reported that Mr. Barry had Mrs. Watts-Brighthaupt’s ex-husband thrown out of a D.C. Council event last week and that she was seeking an apology from the council member.

Mr. Cooke told the Associated Press that Mrs. Watts-Brighthaupt had agreed to travel with Mr. Barry to the beach, but the two returned to the District and parted company after dining in Annapolis. She was traveling with her former husband when, authorities say, Mr. Barry spotted the couple and began following them.

A court appearance for Mr. Barry is scheduled for Thursday. Mr. Cooke said he hoped that the U.S. attorney’s office would review the evidence and decline to file charges.

Mr. Barry has long been viewed as a beloved yet flawed figure in the District. The four-term mayor was voted by D.C. residents to be memorialized at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in Northwest. And he has been overwhelmingly elected to represent Ward 8 in the last two elections.

Before that, he was widely seen as a symbol for the city’s woes. He was arrested in 1990 during his third term as mayor after he was videotaped by federal authorities smoking crack cocaine. Sentenced for misdemeanor cocaine possession, he served six months in prison after famously stating that he was set up.

Mr. Barry returned from prison and won public office as a city council member and then again as mayor.

He was sentenced to three years’ probation in 2006 after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges for failing to file his tax returns from 1999 to 2004.

Mr. Barry also didn’t file his taxes on time in 2005 or 2007, and in May a judge extended his probation by two years.

At the time, Mr. Barry called on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to investigate the U.S. attorney’s office of the District for continuing “to harass and embarrass me through motions and legal documents.”

Unless Mr. Barry is convicted of stalking, it is unlikely to affect his probation, his attorney told the Associated Press.

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