- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2012

A civil lawsuit that claims two Metropolitan Police Department officers illegally seized a man’s camera phone this summer has prompted a criminal investigation of one of the officers by the U.S. attorney’s office, according to recent court filings.

The pending criminal investigation led a federal court judge to grant to a temporary postponement in the civil case this week.

The civil suit alleges that Officer James O’Bannon, of the department’s 7th District, seized the cellphone of D.C. resident Earl Staley Jr. after he photographed officers making an arrest July 20. Mr. Staley got his cellphone back from the 7th District police station later that day, but the memory card was missing and has never been recovered.

“Proceeding with this civil action while a criminal investigation is ongoing would force Officer O’Bannon into the untenable position of either waiving his Fifth Amendment privileges or effectively forfeiting the civil suit,” wrote D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan in court papers filed in U.S. District Court.

The civil lawsuit also says that Officer Kenneth Dean, who was on the scene of the incident in Southeast Washington, incorrectly told Mr. Staley that it is illegal to photograph police and threatened to arrest him. The latest court filing does not mention any criminal investigation into Officer Dean’s actions.

No criminal charges have been filed against either of the officers named in the civil lawsuit, which the D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed on behalf of Mr. Staley in September.

“It’s great that they even thought that it was enough on the radar that he might be subject to criminal prosecution,” ACLU Legal Director Arthur Spitzer said Thursday. “These referrals are fairly common but rarely result in criminal proceedings.”

The police department also is continuing its investigation of the incident and the two officers named in the lawsuit remain on active duty, spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said Thursday. Both the U.S. attorney’s office and the attorney general’s office on Thursday declined to discuss the case.

As the court filings do not mention any criminal investigation into Officer Dean’s actions, Mr. Spitzer said he plans to file a motion Friday asking that the portion of the civil suit related to Officer Dean be allowed to move forward.

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