“This is wrong. All wrong. We can not accept a police state with unstable individuals allowed arbitrary powers of arrest at whim.”

park police
Photo by PoPville flickr user John Sonderman

“Dear PoPville,

I know we have some lawyers & at least one cop on this blog and hoping they can give advice for police encounters. Today I witnessed a sad and disturbing encounter with US Park Police this afternoon – 2:30 pm. in Meridian Hill Park. Walking my dog, ordinary day, saw 3 cops investigating the bathrooms, then strolling around. The usual homeless guys sleeping on benches, nannies with babies, joggers etc.

But then the cops clustered around a couple on a blanket and things got crazy. Accusing them of pot smoking – said someone had called in a report – yeah right. The couple was completely compliant and non-confrontational. They let the cops search their bags, let them see they did indeed have one joint in a Tupperware container. The cops bullied and escalated things beyond any sensible level. “have you ever been arrested?” “Are you sure?”

I’ve lived over 30 years in Columbia Heights – I know when people are being obnoxious or belligerent. This couple was totally non-confrontational. And there was absolutely NO smell of pot anywhere near them! This was absolutely clearly a case of police belligerence.

The woman was dark-skinned, the man sort of gimpy/freaky, maybe gay – but everything about this encounter was just slightly below any measure of certifiable wrong – not exactly racist, not exactly sexist, not exactly homophobic, not exactly jacket-up muscle white-boys, but clearly all of the above. The cops were absolutely goading them to get an arrest. Two of them at least were totally jacked up and hyper. Like crazy hyper – idiot giggling kind of hyper – It was horrible to witness.

I just stood there – a 58 year old white woman with gray hair and a puppy-looking dog. I asked them what the charges were and they said they would arrest me for obstruction if I kept asking. Seriously, we can not accept a police state with arbitrary powers. If I were a 23 year old black man with dreads and a pit bull, I’m sure I would be in jail right now.

When more cops showed up for transport, they were aggressive and sarcastic and really horrible.

Me: What exactly are the charges?

Cop: Have you ever been a cop?

Me: I don’t think that question is relevant. I’m a citizen.

Cop: How long have you been a citizen?

Me: 58 years

Cop: Ha! (then lots of mumbling/shouting with the other officers.)

They took the woman away in handcuffs – not exactly brutality – but pretty rough.

One of the cops sort of asked if I would like to make a statement and I said I would, but then they wouldn’t actually take it. They told me to contact their supervior – a Ltn. Mims – but none of them would give me their names.

This is wrong. All wrong. We can not accept a police state with unstable individuals allowed arbitrary powers of arrest at whim.

The real question is about how one should deal with police encounters. What are your rights when they ask if they can search your bag, your person? Do they need to give you a reason? If you are not involved but standing, just watching, in a public space, can they tell you to back up 20 feet? Get off the sidewalk?”

172 Comment

  • So some people broke the law, were arrested for it, and the OP is angry the cops didn’t feel the need to give a statement to a random third party that has no involvement in the case and no right to know anything beyond filing a FOIA request? Alrighty…

    • What law was broken? Assuming they were both over 21, being in possession of one unlit joint is legal in DC. And if there was no evidence (e.g. smell) that they’d been smoking in the park, an arrest does seem unwarranted.

      • Not on federal property it isn’t.

      • to be clear – Meridian Hill park is federal property, so possession of any amt of pot is ILLEGAL. Not that this justifies any of this(it definitely doesn’t) but federal law supersedes any dc law on federal property. And DC has plenty of pockets of land, large or small, that are under federal control.

        • Ah, yeah, I forgot about Meridian Hill Park being NPS land (along with most other green space in the city).

        • Federal law supersedes DC law on DC property as well. DC cops won’t arrest you for pot, but federal law enforcement can arrest you anywhere in the country for it.

          • Yes but the President has explicitly issued directives for Federal LE not to arrest individuals in states which have legalized pot.

          • We’re not a state. Yes, it seems pedantic, but I could totally see some Park Polic Officer using that. Also, Directives are not laws.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Serious question regarding the President’s directive: does it apply on actual federal property? My understanding and assumption, which admittedly might be wrong, was that it was intended to prevent feds from going after citizens in the course of routine enforcement duties carried out by feds who are in the position of enforcing the law in jurisdictions that have “legalized” marijuana. What I mean is, I don’t think “does DC ‘count’ as a state?” is the question here; I think “does this include federal lands that lies is landlocked by another jurisdiction?” is the question, and I’m fairly certain the answer to that question is “No.” I think the point is that the feds shouldn’t bust you if they see a joint fall out of your pocket when you’re standing in front of them in line at Dunkin Donuts in DC, not that they shouldn’t bust you while you’re on federal property that “looks and feels” like it’s in DC but technically isn’t.

          • To be perfectly honest, I have no clue; my point was mainly that when a state creates a law, it’s sometimes hard for the federal government to intervene because of states rights. DC, of course, doesn’t have this issue. However, the federal government does in fact go after pot, even in legal states. There is an absolutely fascinating docuseries on ViceLand that discusses pot in various contexts, and one of the most interesting episodes dealt with DC. I wish I could recall the name, but I can’t off hand…

      • As others have pointed out, marijuana is still a federal crime and this was federal land. And while the OP swears she didn’t smell anything, it seems like an amazing coincidence to me that the cops just happened to ask these people if they were smoking weed and they were. That said, the people had no obligation to consent to a search, but once you do, and the cops find drugs on federal property, it’s certainly their right to arrest you.

        Stupid law, but that’s the law.

        • HaileUnlikely

          I agree with this. I have seen NPS officers at Meridian Hill Park being much more aggressive and forceful than I believed was necessary on multiple occasions over the years, and from the sounds of things this was likely another such instance, but I don’t have any problem with the end result in this case.
          .
          On another note, I think DC has done a very poor job of educating its citizens and visitors about the conflict with DC law and Federal law and about the fact that there exist lots of places within the borders of DC that are federal jurisdiction but not super-duper-obviously so.

          • So you are OK with “NPS officers at Meridian Hill Park being much more aggressive and forceful than I believed was necessary on multiple occasions over the years, and from the sounds of things this was likely another such instance?” Seriously? I don’t know how to make it more clear. I know these people were breaking the law. I also know these officers behaved in a way that no civil society should accept.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I am ok with the end result of somebody who is in fact in violation of the law being arrested for it. That is the part that I am ok with.
            .
            I think a lot of the NPS officers have a chip on their shoulder and act unprofessionally and I do have a problem with that, but having not witnessed this event and hearing a secondhand account of it from somebody as unabashedly biased as you are, I don’t have much of an opinion about how the officers acted in this specific case.

          • General Grant Circle

            Right, because there arent more pressing criminal problems in this city

          • HaileUnlikely

            General Grant – Jurisdictional boundaries are a different matter for a different conversation. I am really, truly not sure NPS would have had anything more pressing to attend to within their jurisdiction. I’d be all for reassigning them to patrol Metro, but given that they were on duty at the time as NPS, I don’t think that argument really carries.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Actually, not sure I’d support reassigning them to Metro. They might beat an old lady to a bloody pulp for drinking water from a camelback on a 90-degree day on the train. I am often unimpressed with NPS officers’ demeanor and professionalism. However, given that they are NPS, I still am not confident that they had anything better to do within their jurisdiction than bust somebody for smoking a joint on federal land.

          • General Grant Circle

            There is a LOT of crime that occurs in our parks in DC. I get that pot smoking would be considered a crime but personally id rather see man power used elsewhere

        • fwiw, cops ask that kind of question all the time just to fish around for cause to search someone. it’s a ridiculously common tactic. that they found a joint is not proof that the people were actually smoking it or doing anything disruptive and requiring their arrest.

    • Innocence until guilt is proven is the bedrock of our legal system. So, legally, and absolutely, these people are innocent and were arrested–giving the officers the benefit of the doubt–for suspicion of crime.

      • You are innocent until proven guilty at trial. Since a trial obviously cannot occur immediately and on the spot, but this definition every criminal in american history has been arrested only for suspicion of a crime.

        • That is absolutely, completely correct. Every single person in U.S. history has only ever been arrested for suspicion of a crime because, again, every single person is innocent until proven guilty, either through admission of guilt or a trial by a jury of one’s peers. So, again: yes. That is correct. If you are arrested, you remain absolutely legally innocent until proven otherwise.

      • Presumption of innocence is also why officers will provide almost no information to uninvolved bystanders when they are stopping/arresting someone, interviewing a victim, etc.

  • Um, “the man sort of gimpy/freaky, maybe gay” bit makes me question a lot here.

    Well, that and the idea the cops are obviously psychic and knew this couple had marijuana somehow. And OP’s claim that it didn’t smell like pot in Meridian Hill park. I doubt there is ever a time that is true.

    • Sorry, I was using “gimpy/freaky” in the carnival sense – stretched ear plugs, piercings, orange hair, big tattoos (a music box ballerina on his back shoulder, a huge maybe squid across his stomach.) My point being – these two people were glaring targets to the police. The woman was a very dark-skinned black woman with an almost shaved head, who also happened to be picnicing topless. (Which is totally legal.)

      These officers did not question anyone else after they left the bathroom. None of the homeless guys on the benches. They just beamed in on this couple.

      And there was NO smell of pot. I walk here several times a week and never smell pot, so let go your tired old pre-conceptions.

      • Serious question – do you know what pot smells like? There is literally no space I can think of in DC that I’d declare you NEVER smell pot there, particularly a park. Maybe in front of the Police Station, but I assume someone smokes there just to say they did it.

        • Ummm – did you read the part where I’ve lived in Columbia Heights for 30 years and am 58 years old? Yeah, I know what pot smells like.

          • Dear citizen, 58 years, You are awesome! i am glad you are my neighbor.

          • hmmm. I’m 48 and I know what pot smelled like back in my day and I know that it smells quite different today (from my neighbors). Does all of today’s pot smell like skunk? or is that a certain strain of it? It seems to be everywhere these days.

    • Hah! My reaction exactly.

  • Wait so they took the woman away in handcuffs but not the man??

  • Isn’t the OP seeing too much in this episode ?

    Cops may not be MIT PhD but in the middle of a park with dozens of people watching, and in DC where everybody and their grandmas are lawyers, i can’t believe they would have taken the risk to overreach by arresting these guys for pot (if Meridian is federal land, pot is not allowed). They didn’t beat them up, they didn’t insult them so outside of OP’s perception of maybe it was racist maybe it was homophobic, nothing is proven or actual.

    as for the search, well, they can ask. If you say yes, too bad for you.

    • Being grateful that the police do not beat you up is not a standard I am willing to accept.

      • what you’re willing to accept is irrelevant you know, there are rules (called laws) and this couple was in fact in breach of a federal law over federal land.

        I was simply questioning your perception of the whole episode and your assessment that the couple was being questioned because they didn’t look like the Clarendon crowd and that they were being rough-handled. From your testimony, the couple complied and was detained. The cops didn’t go rodney king-y on them.

        I don’t like hanging around police more than anyone else, I also use crossings when i need to cross a street, just to avoid talking to a cop for jaywalking 🙂 but these guys were doing their job. Maybe you don’t like it (your right) but that doesn’t mean what they were doing was fundamentally wrong

        • There is a standard of behavior from law-enforcement professionals that any civilized society should accept that is far beyond arbitrary beatings and choke-holds. What I am “willing to accept” may be irrelevant to you, but I don’t believe that giving any police arbitrary powers to arrest at whim is good for any democratic society . Not going “Rodney King” is an absurd and horrific standard.

          • from your post, I read that the cops asked this couple if they had weed, the couple said yes and the cops found a joint. They were subsequently detained.

            Broken law => possible arrest. This has nothing to do with arbitrary detention in a black site in Diego Garcia because you said you loved couscous

          • justinbc

            You keep using the phrase “at whim”. I’m not sure you know what that means…

        • agree. I feel the OP was just looking to be outraged. So many assumptions from the OP that it’s hard to take seriously.

          • I”m not looking for an excuse to be “outraged.” Outrageous behavior from those we hire to protect and defend our civil society is just not acceptable.

  • According to a quick internet search (yes, I know) DC police officers are required to give you their name and badge number when you request it.

    From a Huffpost Article:
    In 2004, D.C. passed the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act to reform the way the department handles demonstrations and how individual officers are required to identify themselves.

    • These were not DC cops. It was probably national park police.

      • Ah, I overlooked that! But in general, people should know that DC Cops do have to provide you with their names and badge numbers, if you ask.

  • A story as old as time itself. A couple nerd cops go on a power trip and decide to f*ck with completely peaceful citizens for something minor like having a joint on them. Just an unfortunate situation that happens to unsuspecting people all the time. I’m not saying all cops suck because I know plenty of MPD and MoCo cops who are awesome dudes and wouldn’t harass ppl like this. However, I typically find in these situations that there isn’t a whole lot you can do with Cops who act this way. They are just looking for reasons to arrest someone and cause a scene.
    I’ve been in this type of predicament a couple times with police and really the only thing you can do is cooperate and hope they lose their macho man stance once they see that you aren’t taking the bait. Most times they are just trying to test you. True story- Once I was walking to a friends house leaving a bar in the Glover Park area on a Friday night/Saturday morning around 2am. My friend and I were literally just walking on a neighborhood sidewalk with his house about 2 blocks away. Two young DORK cops approach us aggressively and start accusing us of having drugs on us and that they “received a report” about suspicious drug activity on that block. I’ll admit I wasn’t the most “cooperative suspect” when they accused me of that but could you really blame me? I was pissed we were being harassed for NO reason about drugs that we DID NOT have. I gave MINOR attitude back to them and they ended up throwing us both on the ground, shoved my head in the dirt as hard as they could and “searched us for the drugs” which they obviously did not find. They were clearly embarrassed by this whole thing and to save their own asses they ended up arresting us for “drunk in public”.. Are u kidding me? What does that even mean? I left a bar to go home and I got arrested for it… Obviously all the charges were dropped and the entire case was thrown out but I had to drop about a G on lawyer fees. Some cops like the ones in this article are the WORST. Bunch of losers.

    • That being said. IF they were smoking the J on the park lawn then the cops were 100% within their rights to arrest them. Rules is rules as they say. I do see your point, however, that there was no need to cause a huge scene and basically bully these people.
      It’s my understanding you can possess up to an ounce of pot on you in public and it would be completely legal. Once u fire up that J, however, all bets are off.
      There is still some grey area with the possession laws too when it comes to federal land and what not. Either way it sounds like there actions were completely ridiculous. Haters gonna hate. Legalize it mon.

      • As others have noted, not on federal property. Possession is still illegal. You should write to your members of Congress to complain about this…oh wait, nevermind. We do not have any of those.

      • Love everything about him this comment. Except the story of what happened to you. Majorly shitty.

    • “Tonight’s the night that we got the truck. We’re going downtown gonna beat up drunks! You’re turn to drive I’ll bring the beer it’s a late late shift no one to fear let’s ride ride how we ride.”

      Anyone?

    • I’ve had a similar run in with MPD. I feel your pain.

      But Park Police are notoriously nasty. Why do they even exist and where is their oversight?

  • These people never should have consented to the search in the first place.

    • I realize this comes across as victim blaming — that was not my intention and my response was worded poorly.

      • still true
        you can refuse a search, with consequences of course, but with cops, the de facto answer should always be NO

      • Agree with the sentiment though. Don’t consent to searches.

        • Absolutely agree. That said, there is a consequence to that, in that if the cop thinks he/she may be able to find something, they can “detain” you (different from arrest) for as long as “reasonably necessary” to conclude their investigation. So if they suspect drugs, they can detain you long enough to get a drug dog or obtain a warrant for a search. Basically each interaction with the police is different, and there is no hard and fast rule of when to consent or not.

          • DC CapHill

            For part of one joint, really, in the face of staunch objection to a questionable search, are they going to spend their time and energy detaining you on PC, running down a drug dog to flesh that out, then running down a warrant for arrest, filing paperwork, etc.? It’s doubtful, they generally get their jollies off from those too scared to fight back. They are much less amused by ‘Larry Lawschool’ who can cite chapter and verse on how they are abusing their perceived authority for no good reason.

            Refuse the search, loud and proud, repeatedly and annoyingly ask over and over and over again “Am I being detained, Officer? Am I being detained, Officer? Am I free to go, Officer?” It would get old quickly for them, I’m guessing you’d be free to leave in very short order, WITHOUT the object of their eye, of course.

      • Let’s stop calling any criticism “victim blaming.” You didn’t BLAME anyone. And as much as I might disagree with the law these people broke, these people are not victims here. They are the offenders.

    • 100% agree. Never ever ever ever ever ever…..wait for it…..EVER consent to a search. Even if you don’t have any illegal contraband. Police can contort a innocuous, legit object – such a prescription medication or a straw for drinking soda – into “paraphernalia” or abuse of prescriptions. I’d rather be detained for a bit while they attempt to get authorization to search or bring the dogs (they won’t get it and the dogs won’t find anything).

      • Except in this case the dog would have found the joint and they would have been exactly where they are now.

        • Maybe yes, maybe no. Depends if the dogs were tied up with other duties, like guarding the Mall, Arlington Cemetery, or other patches of Federal land. NPS cops are just as lazy as anyone else; they won’t sit around for 2 hours waiting for a dog unless they really think they are getting a big score. They’ll eventually want their coffee break.
          My point is that consent is never the right path to go down. A jerk cop will find something to give you a hard time about when you consent.

  • Well, I don’t think it was an arrest at whim. Generally, you are within your rights to refuse to answer questions, refuse a search, and ask if you are free to leave. If the officer won’t let you leave, he or she must tell you why. The couple’s compliance was their downfall. They consented to a search and showed the officers their joint. They were free to keep their mouths shut and refuse to allow a search.

    As for the OP, officers don’t have to answer bystander questions and have broad latitude to tell you to move a reasonable distance from the scene. If you had a smartphone, you would be in your rights to take a video of the situation as long as you were not interfering with the officers. Check out the ACLU’s info on the web regarding your rights. You sound like a nice person who is genuinely concerned, and that you witnessed an interaction that didn’t seem right – I encourage you to contact the LT’s name given to you. But, it sounds like the officers were probably acting lawfully.

    • As I wrote – I know they were acting within the law. I also know they were acting in an aggressive, belligerent and unprofessional manner. I don’t think that is something that we should accept. This was not a split-second danger-type confrontation. This was just bullying.

  • Can’t people mind your own business??

    • It’s gonna be about zero seconds before someone posts that famous quote about triumph of evil and good people doing nothing.

    • Which people? The police? I hope not.

      The OP? Can’t seem to.

    • I’ll be very glad for someone to stick their nose in my business if I’m ever being hassled by some gone-to-seed jock on a power trip.

    • Yes – mind your own business – and totally resisting any reference to the whole Hitler thing. . . .

  • Ridiculous. The park police sound as if they were definitely on a power trip.

  • I doubt Park Police have much else to do besides trifling stuff like this. Great gig if you can get it, I guess.

    • General Grant Circle

      I dont know ALOT of crime occurs in public parks in the city. Regardless of whether this couple was or wasnt smoking pot on federal property it disgusts me that THIS required multiple officers

  • OP here – another guy actually got some phone-video, and waited/watched with me for the transport police to show up. Both people were handcuffed by now. He asked the police (calmly, non-confrontationally) that he thought there was just a $25.00 fine for possession of one joint. The officer said that was up to “officer discretion.” We then asked what were the factors that led them to use this discretion to arrest instead of fine these people. Then the officers basically told us to f**k off.

    • HaileUnlikely

      In my opinion, if the officers are in the middle of an arrest and a citizen starts interrogating the officers about the factors that led them to use their discretion, being told to f* off is about the best you could possibly hope for.

      • This is a sad and dangerous opinion. The questioning, as I have previously explained, was not “in the middle of an arrest.” It was with the two suspects handcuffed and 6 cops standing around waiting for a transport car. Citizen interrogation of people in authority is essential to a free society.

        • HaileUnlikely

          My opinion is sad and dangerous? Ok. In any event, that is neither the time nor the place. Your likelihood of getting a better answer than “f* off” then and there is extraordinarily close to zero. If you want to follow up on this in a meaningful way, which I am deliberately contrasting with the meaningless way in which you and Captain Smartphone Video did, go to the station and talk to the officer’s superior in his or her office, not right there on the scene.

          • Wow – Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I choose to believe that citizens in a democracy should expect better than “Your likelihood of getting a better answer than “f* off” then and there is extraordinarily close to zero.”

            Yes, I will say again, your opinion is sad and dangerous.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I will say it again – “Uh, ok.”

          • HaileUnlikely

            And also, if you really do care about the nature of the interactions between the police and citizens, stop wasting time with faceless, nameless people online and go down to the station and speak with the Lieutenant.

      • i think your reaction just kind of proves the point. why should cops feel comfortable telling citizens who aren’t doing anything illegal to go f** off simply for asking lawful questions? their “discretion” is not supposed to extend that far.

        • HaileUnlikely

          Although I was not there and did not see what transpired, given the context and the tone of most of the OP’s posts so far, I am unwilling to accept as fact her assertions regarding the demeanor of the person posing the question, and would conjecture that it was plainly obvious to the officer that he had no interest in having a constructive conversation but rather just wanted to be adversarial and impede the officer.

          • “I am unwilling to accept as fact her assertions regarding the demeanor of the person posing the question,”
            .
            What he said.

          • HaileUnlikely – Are you day drinking?

          • HaileUnlikely

            Only coffee.
            .
            You are doing a very poor job of portraying yourself as an unbiased and credible witness. I realize that may not be your objective, and if that is the case, fine. However, you should not be surprised, given the totality of what you have written on here, that somebody who did not witness something that you [claim to have] witnessed is unwilling to accept as fact every single word of what you have asserted.

      • 1. +1. I’m not sure why you think a third party has the right to interrogate the cops about the basis for arrest (especially since you seem to concede it was a lawful arrest).
        2. I have no doubt that many cops, probably even these cops, act inappropriately.
        3. OP’s overwrought narrative makes me question her ability to accurately recount what actually happened.
        4. To answer OP’s question, you always can refuse to consent to a search. They may detain you to wait for a warrant, but that’s a different issue. If you’re not involved in the incident, it’s entirely legal (and appropriate) for the police to ask you to back up.

        • 1. Independent 3rd party right to interrogate the cops is exactly what makes the USA a stable country and a so-far – reliable democracy.

          2. Should a civil society simply accept police officers acting “inappropriately?”

          3. In what way do you consider the original post “overwrought?”

          4. Thanks for the sort-of info about consenting to a search.

          • 1. You certainly have the right to question the actions of the police. Interrogating them in the middle of an arrest? You really think that’s the same thing?
            2. You state – several times – that the police acted legally. Apparently they were rude and or belligerent while acting legally. Should we accept that? Probably not. But neither is it, “This is wrong. All wrong. We can not accept a police state with unstable individuals allowed arbitrary powers of arrest at whim.” These police did not, by your own account, use “arbitrary powers of arrest at a whim” – they acted legally. This is not indicative of the decline of the Republic or the fall of Western civilization, it’s indicative of a couple of cops being not as polite as you think they should have been to people they were lawfully arresting.
            3. See # 2.

  • I want to write the word ‘entrapment’ but then where do I insert it? Could it be the couple were tracked, watched and then said officers proceeded to do what they do. Or was it completely wrong in what went down… A few summers back I’d be approached by some random dude asking where he could ‘score (as in buy) some pot, I suspecting this dude was a sheer set up/undercover cop said merely I don’t smoke, which is the truth and he immediately put back on his sunglasses and suddenly he disappeared…Hmmm..The Men in Blue and the people; who wins?

    • Afraid you need to insert the word “entrapment” in… different situations. The situation in Meridian Hill here might suck but it doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with entrapment.

  • Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Don’t do it!

    (and yes, it is still a crime on Federal property)

    • justinbc

      It’s still a crime everywhere in the United States, not just on federal property. Just because states choose to legalize it from their perspective doesn’t negate the fact that it’s Schedule 1 (most dangerous classification) substance per the D.E.A.

  • As If

    you lost me at “the man sort of gimpy/freaky, maybe gay”

  • So two people were arrested for pot possession in a federal park. What exactly is the issue here? That the cops asked them if they had been arrested before? That the people arrested were not cis-gendered white men?

    Having trouble getting riled up about this one, although I do think the park police are generally more aggressive and prone to belligerence than DC MPD. I think DC MPD actually do a better job of keeping their cool in dealing with the public than the police anywhere else I have lived.

  • To OP’s original questions:
    What are your rights when they ask if they can search your bag, your person? You can decline to be searched, but remember that you can be “detained” as long as “reasonably necessary” for them to conclude their investigation.
    Do they need to give you a reason? To conduct a search, yes – but to the person(s) involved and/or their legal counsel (not in play in this post, but in general). It sounds like you were a witness, therefore no, they don’t owe you any explanation.
    If you are not involved but standing, just watching, in a public space, can they tell you to back up 20 feet? Get off the sidewalk? Yes, they can set up a perimeter to conduct their investigation without obstruction, as well as protect the scene and anyone involved, including themselves, from outside interference. Keywords there are ‘obstruction’ and ‘interference.’

    • Thank you – this is what I was actually asking. If you are in a park, or anywhere, and police come around and ask to search your bags what should you do – not do – ask? What are your rights? What should you expect to happen?

      When police are aggressive/bullying – how should we respond?

  • Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. A few years ago, I wanted to show my friend how beautiful Meridian Hill was and we went right as the sun was going down so the view from the mall was beautiful. We started walking away once the sun set and two police officers in a car came barreling down the mall (on the grass) at us (which is so unnecessary) and screeched to a halt and frisked us and harassed us asking if we were selling drugs to each other because it was “sketchy that we were in the park at sunset” and I looked around and said “have you ever opened your eyes? This is the most beautiful and functional park in DC and one of the best public spaces for watching the sunset. AND we were walking out as the sun was setting.” It’s just an abuse of power.

  • I have a friend whose vindictive ex-girlfriend wanted to get him arrested. She called MPD several times, telling them he had an illegal gun in his apartment. They disregarded her. So then she tried Park Police. Apparently convinced by her story, they stormed his apartment and arrested him, then tore his place apart looking for the gun that never existed. He missed his shift while he was in jail, and lost his job, and had a huge mess to return home to.
    So if you want to destroy someone’s life– sic Park Police on them. They’ll be happy to do it.

    • Huh? Does he live on National Park property? If not, I’m pretty sure NPS could not search his home.

      • HaileUnlikely

        I was thinking the same thing. This all sounds very strange.

        • It sounds strange, but it’s allowed.

          • I think I would need some documentation that this is allowed (i.e. please provide a link to this regulation) in order to not call BS on this one.

          • Well, I don’t know what else to say except it really did happen. Why would I make something like that up?
            I don’t know how to search regulations, and frankly it sounds too time-consuming for the sole purpose of satisfying a random commenter. Sorry!

          • They can perform law enforcement duties outside their jurisdiction in emergencies. They could argue that this was an emergency if the ex said he was going to shoot someone.

      • I was on a jury in DC Superior Court a couple of years ago where the Park Police did exactly that – search a suspect’s home – and arrested him once they found guns, ammo, and drugs. We weren’t given information on why the Park Police were the investigating authority. Presumably a park was involved in some way but one of the parties successfully argued that the jury shouldn’t find out why. Maybe the vindictive ex in this case made up a story about him threatening her in a park.

        • The U.S. Park Police are located in 3 geographical areas in the United States and are able to effect an arrest without a warrant in any unit of the National Park System, the District of Columbia, and the environs of the District of Columbia “… defined as embracing Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, and Stafford counties and the City of Alexandria in Virginia, and Prince Georges, Charles, Anne Arundel, and Montgomery counties in Maryland; the county of Frederick, Maryland; the city of New York and the counties of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester, New York; the counties of Monmouth, Hudson, Essex, Union, Bergen, Middlesex, and Ocean, New Jersey; the city and county of San Francisco, California, and the counties of Marin and San Mateo, California.

  • General Grant Circle

    Regardless of what is technically legal or illegal etc etc I imagine the cops have better things to do in this city than harass a couple for smoking. That is like when you see 3 cop cars and 6 officers deal with a Jaywalker. I have been physically and verbally threatened, witnessed crime occurring in the middle of the day. Our public transportation is unsafe, killings occur with impunity, and yet THIS is what requires multiple officers?

    • Of course they have better things to do, but often the officers are just sent on patrol someplace, for whatever reason, and need/want to do something besides just walk around.

  • Bottom line is that shit like this ALMOST NEVER HAPPENS TO WHITE PEOPLE. If it was a young white couple, two white women on break from work, a couple of white bros hanging out, etc., can you imagine the cops hassling and arresting them for a joint in a tupperware container, and then still being snide as fuck to onlookers?

    • +1 I think that was exactly the point.

    • HaileUnlikely

      To the NPS’s credit in this case, I have witnessed the NPS be rude and aggressive with white people on multiple occasions on the mall and in Meridian Hill Park. The one time that I saw NPS officers using waaay disproportionate force and threatening to arrest citizens who were standing a few feet away for not backing away far enough and fast enough, all parties involved were white.

    • +1

      That is all this boils down to. A black woman and an eccentric “gimpy, freaky, possibly gay dude” just aren’t going to get the same due care and the benefit of the doubt as others as you state.

      I chuckle at all the discussion regarding the public/federal land and marijuana law this and that like it is proportionately applied across the board.

      These officers felt like arresting her only apparently so they did plain and simple.

    • justinbc

      As of May 2016, the percentage of black police officers in MPD was 55%. This particular case involved NPS, but I can’t imagine it’s drastically different since they pull from the same resource base of potential employees. If you want to cry out racism, at least know that numbers wise, in this city specifically, that’s going to be a tough argument to make.

  • Somewhere in the comment section the OP said the woman was “picnicking topless” and that this isn’t illegal. Is that true? Just asking the question. I’ve been to Meridian Hill 1000 times and never seen anyone topless (or anywhere in the city, for that matter).

    • I googled it! Yes – topless in DC appears to be legal. And why not? If men can go topless, then women should.

      • SouthwestDC

        Too bad men can go topless without getting harassed.

        • Ironically, I first noticed the man as he was walking across the field, because I thought – damn – shirt police needed here!

      • Really? Why don’t we all just protest for statehood while shirtless? that would send all the conservative southern right-wingers running for sure! I had no idea! thanks for the nip! er, I mean tip!

  • If they really want to waste their time on BS like this they should come to Petworth. My whole neighborhood smells like weed all the time since the law changed . I find that hilarious since they didn’t actually change the law to allow you to smoke in public but that’s exactly how it’s being interpreted AND enforced.

    I do hope that no one was holding up a mother of a two year old in the park at the same time this was going on. What a conundrum those cops would have on their hands.

    • justinbc

      They don’t “want to waste their time”. They are officers, and like all officers, are assigned specific patrol areas. These NPS guys aren’t going to stroll over to your Petworth hood, unless you happen to live right on a national park.

  • 1. “Appropriate and professional” is subjective to every officer, official, and citizen.
    2. Park Police, can and will enforce local DC Code and Federal law on federal land and DC land surrounding the federal land. (You can’t stand on DC land across from federal land and scream “hey Pig! I have a ton of drugs on me and you can’t do anything about it!” They also assist MPD occisionally with drug dogs or what not.
    3. I know personally, I have made arrests of people, a 3rd party didn’t agree. I explained, “can you wait till the person is in the car and gone and we can speak.” Now, some times the 3rd party listens, I listen, and we disagree because I made an arrest. But the other times the 3rd party just wants to yell about “the police state”. In those situations I say “have a great day.” I have too much paper work to do, while I get yelled at about how “I am the worst.”.
    4. While, the OP, I’m sure some of what you wrote is fact, and you believe the whole statement (fact and believing are two different things) I would be interested to hear the NPS officers side.
    5. If you think they’re that bad, go to the Park Police HQ, ask what officers made an arrest at whatever time at meridian hill park and ask to speak to their Official.
    6. Always film us, BUT remember to stay back while doin so. I get “staying back” is subjective but my suggestion is listen to whatever the OFC asks.
    7. not to sound rude, but knowing your rights and when and when the police can’t search you is something everyone should know prior to their 18th birthday. Knowing your bill of rights is a huge deal!
    8. Hope that helped OP.

    • Oh and btw, Park Police doesn’t **** around. They’re our “state troopers”, they rarely have radio runs, and much more free time than other agencies. So they can be more nit picky.

      • I have never heard them in terms of “state police,” but really, in this context it makes a whole lotta sense. Thank you, as always Anon MPD (2); you and your conterparts who comment from time to time are very helpful!

    • Thanks for replying Annon MTD2 – but please understand that from a citizen’s point of view having “appropriate and professional” be “subjective” actually means that we citizens are entirely at the whim of any officer’s judgement/mood/prejudice? That is neither effective for police time/resources or helpful to the community.

      • HaileUnlikely

        It seems that the object of your objection now is not police conduct but rather the English language. What is appropriate versus inappropriate is not a question whose answer is factual in nature, whether we’re talking about the police or anything else.

        • I mean, the police are human, I have bad days just like everyone else. I try and normally contain my bad days. But just like any profession some people aren’t the best at it. I understand and whole heartily appreciate your feelings about someone being rude. And again, I would direct you to their department to make a complaint. I saw someone state MPD must give names and badge numbers when asked, that is 10000% correct but we don’t have to give that person a pen or pencil to remember it.

          Side note- (I sadly don’t know nor have I ever posted a story on here.) but everyone that lives in DC should read this article. http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/article/20781131/the-thinned-blue-line

          • Also OP, the amount of 9-1-1 calls we get about people “doing drugs” at X place is astonishing. So, although you don’t believe the officers statement that they had a call, I’d bet they did. There are a lot of people in this city that doesn’t like marijuana and call us all the time about it.

  • anonymouse_dianne

    We need a name for these afternoon outrage posts. They are becoming as frequent as YAAF.

  • Welcome to the world of being black dealing with police. Always guilty at the start

  • Wow…what a clickbaity headline for a perfectly legal arrest. OP has some serious cop issues that seem to spill into this story. Truthfully, I stopped believing that the OP was unbiased when I read, “said someone had called in a report – yeah right.”

    There are actual issues between police and the citizenry that need to be addressed. Pearl clutching like this does nothing to address those issues, and does everything to distract from them.

    • So clearly you’ve never been to Meridian Hill park. Or anywhere in Dc. The smell of pot is easy to find everywhere. But actually not that much in Meridian Hill Park – because – it’s a great big outdoor space, and there is like, wind and air.

      No one in any universe is going to call police for the smell of pot in this park at 2:30 in the afternoon. Or ever really.

      And please check your attempted metaphors, because “pearl clutching” doesn’t actually work here.

      • You’ve said a couple times that the Park doesn’t smell like pot. I have to strongly disagree. I live right next door and walk through the park several times a day. Since the law changed, I always pass through the smell of pot at some point in the park on nearly every journey. I always snicker and wonder if the smokers know they are on federal land.

      • I mean. I’ve lived in the district for over two decades. But sure, I’ve never been “anywhere in DC.”

        Look, it’s painfully obvious that you have an ax to grind. That’s your right, of course, but when you insert your own biases into this story, we stop caring about the story. Not because there’s nothing going wrong, but because you aren’t giving us an unbiased picture.

        I’m also supremely amused that you don’t recognize that you are, in fact, “pearl clutching.”

        You be you. I’m just saying, if there’s an actual story here, it’s buried under your preconceived notions, false assumptions and half-baked ideas.

      • justinbc

        “No one in any universe is going to call police for the smell of pot in this park at 2:30 in the afternoon. Or ever really.”
        Incorrect. I absolutely would.

  • I’m not someone who blindly puts my trust in the police but I think this is an over reaction on the OP. The police were from what I infer rude (and I’d say even that is a stretch). I like how the OP even states that someone called and reported these people but the OP won’t or can’t believe it. I’m sure whoever called it in gave the police the description of the couple (though I can’t verify if this person knew the person was gay or not).

    Oh and to answer your question OP, don’t EVER give the police permission to search your bag no matter what they say. That’s an easy one.

  • A few years ago my husband and I went to this park during a week day (we are gay). We had a picnic in the park. A cop drove (yes drove in a car) up to us and started all these questions about why we were there during the day, why we weren’t at work (he worked retail i was unemployed at the time) and if we were drinking, drugs, etc. We are both white, and were drinking water while reading a books. He did eventually drive away. We packed up and left right after. I assume it was to write a quick ticket for something, but it was odd and really turned us off.

    • There is a long history of drug dealing, drug use, prostitution, and public sexual activity taking place in that park. Not saying that this justifies police acting heavy-handedly, but we’re not talking about a park in Bethesda here.

      • Yes, but we all know that police harassment of gay people on the flimsy excuse that sexual activity might be happening in public is bogus. I’ve been harassed by national park police multiple times for just being in parks with my girlfriend, not even touching, and lesbians have got to be the people least likely to being having sex in public! The public sex thing is pure harassment of gay people – people are either doing something illegal or they aren not – it doesn’t matter who they are doing it with. (Though I have noticed a tolerance for straight people having sex in public in general.)

  • I am not ok with the end result of this. The officers could have easily ordered the couple to disperse and leave the park, knowing full well less than 50 yards away that skimpy j is fully legal. This was a needless waste of resources.

    A single officer could have easily handled the situation in a peaceful manner.

    Instead, it would appear nearly a half dozen officers were deployed, the couple was degraded and dehumanized, a citizen was needlessly threatened, and the Courts limited resources will be wasted spending time (most likely) reaching a plea deal involving fines and community service for the offenders.

    Although I would like to dismiss the actions of the officers as that of amateurs, displaying disproportionate actions regarding the situation at hand, it would seem to be more based in a culture of accepted brutality in their department.

    This is not the first time individuals have been dealt with in a disproportionately harsh manner by US Park Police in Malcolm X Park, actions going far beyond a mere detainment and arrest. The fact that none of the uniformed federal officers would provide their names is indicative of their overreach, and could be a violation of US Park Police policy and/or Federal law itself.

    If there is a leadership problem, in that there is department wide acceptance of harsh punitive practices, those harmful to the community at large, then that must be addressed.

  • As others have mentioned, legal stop and arrest. Marijuana is still schedule 1 and can be enforced by federal law enforcement officers.
    Most likely though the case is no papered, i.e. meaning tossed out prior to court.

    There are a-holes in every profession / jobs, that’s just how it is. In my department there are plenty of a-holes as well as plenty of non a-holes.

    On the local non federal side, possession of less than 2oz of Marijuana is legal in the district. Plain smell of Marijuana is no longer probable cause for a search of narcotics due to marijuana being legal to possess in small amounts., i.e. 2oz.
    But, the plain smell doctrine still holds true for other cases of drugs, I.e for example if I smell an odor that based on my training and experience is consistent with that of pcp coming from your person, it is legal for me to conduct a probable cause search for pcp on you.
    Or if I see you do a hand to hand transaction of suspected drugs for money, I can search you for drugs.

    Now in DC, although you can possess weed up to 2oz, it is illegal to smoke it. You can get arrested for it or given a citation for it.

    When it comes to a 3rd party asking about why X Y Z is getting arrested, they don’t have a right to know. Because X Y Z have a right to privacy and don’t need to have their business told to some onlooker.

    Now when it comes to how park police are such a-holes and how MPD would not have gone the same route, I say this.
    Every agency in DC has a task and purpose. Some agencies are busier than most dealing with more calls for service and or dealing with other crimes. Park police, and not taking anything away from this great agency, has the time and motivated proactive officers to enforce more public conduct ordinances than there other local police counterparts. When enforcing the little stuff, often at times leads to getting bigger stuff. I.e the more sexy arrests I.e like guns Felony warrants, harder drugs, etc

    But don’t get it twisted, MPD , just like Park, make plenty of arrests of the “smaller things”, like people smoking weed or alcohol violations, or trespassing.

    You guys don’t want to live in a place where the police forces are reactive. You guys should want a proactive department. And in the current era of policing and current events, there being proactive officers isn’t as common as it used to be.
    And these Park Police officers were being proactive. And that’s a good thing.

    • All the complaining about US Park Police in the park is ironic. I recall a time when it wasn’t safe to be in that park at all. It’s the visible presence of the U.S. Park Police that has changed that.

      • I don’t think we should accept police harassment of, and trying to find a reason to arrest, people doing nothing wrong as the price of having a safer park. I mean, who in their right mind would?

      • lol no it isn’t. it’s that the people living around the park have changed. park police are idiots.

  • My experiences with the Park Police have always been in the extremes. Either they are the most professional and calm LE agency folks you’ll deal with in DC or the biggest a-hole muscle head types.

  • I’m an attorney and latino with no patience; when I have bad encounters with cops I pick up the phone and call 911 and ask for the sergeant on duty for this particular area and tell them the “bad act” the officer is doing. The two times that I’ve done this they’ve gotten a radio call, to which they walk away, and come back with much more patience and then a second lead officer shows up also disarming the situation.

    I don’t have patience for that shit; I’m from NYC, though NYPD is not leaps and bounds better, the unprofessionalism of DC MPD is surprising to me.

    • is your username JD/MBA for real ???

      wow….

    • Also, I just remembered one situation with Capitol Police where they pulled me over after I gave them the middle finger: They put their lights on and the siren to move me while I was trying to park on 7th street just to be jerks. Forced me to pull up to the light that was red instead of letting me wait to park and then turned off their lights -signaling that it wasn’t an emergency they needed to get to and then I saw (in my rear view mirror) the four officers laugh in their car which boiled my blood. So when the light turned green, I gave them the finger as I made a right turn. They reversed up the street and pulled me over.

      Before the officer asked for my license I was handing it to him while ripping into him that he pulled me over for doing something totally legal and that I hoped to god that he would give me a ticket for exercising my first amendment right, so I could make a report to his superiors and sue capitol police for violating both the District’s constitution and the U.S. constitution with an added bonus of an expletive-filled explanation of why it was illegal EVEN for him to turn on his emergency lights without an actual emergency other than to move me because he didn’t want to wait for me to park. Response from the officer: “Don’t do it again” and gave me back my license – didn’t even know what to say. Officers just like power trips until they run straight into an attorney that has no fu**ing patience for their crap and is just as aggressive as they are. It’s unfortunate though that the regular citizen who doesn’t know the right “language” won’t get the officer of their power trips.

      • Well, good for you. You were lucky, though. Sometimes they get extra nasty to attorneys who sound like they have some idea of their rights.

        I had that same experience when in law school, though I would have reacted the same in any of the many years I drove before going back to school – two police officers in Boston pulled me over and said I made an illegal right on red – I told them the sign restricted right on red only during rush hours, and it was a few hours after that now – and I told them exactly the hours listed on the sign. I told them I lived a block away and turned there frequently, so I knew what the sign said and they should go back and read it for themselves. They laughed and let me go. But something about the way they laughed made me think they knew damn well what the sign said and just decided to harass me for no reason but their own pleasure in doing so. I mean, if they truly believed I had turned in the wrong, why would they take my word for it, rather than at least have one go back 1/2 block to read the sign? Unless they were just too lazy to do that.

      • In fairness, I could have totally found something to write you a ticket for. We have lots of street lawyers and some are actually JDs but your hot temper is going to meet an inexperienced officer with a similar temper one day and things will not go well. For anyone.

        • But doesn’t that clarify the problem a bit? I mean, just as there are hot-tempered cops, there are hot-tempered citizens, too. Shouldn’t a part of any LEO training include some coping skills for these situations so they don’t go south? I get that it’s safest and wisest to be calm and respectful when dealing with any LEO, but shouldn’t that rule also apply in the reverse? It seems such coping skills would be very important for everyone’s safety.

        • Anon MPD (or Officer): first let me say that from the vantage point of being both a criminal and civil prosecutor I respect officers who do their jobs correctly. But I have little-to-no patience for power tripping officers. I’ve seen them In court too and I don’t play that game. As a south Bronx native I also know the difference between good cops doing their jobs in difficult situations and assholes on power trips. I have little to no respect for the latter.

          Second, you don’t get to arrest, ticket, or shoot someone because he’s a jerk or impatient to you–that’s not how it works and officers need to understand that. So the day it goes bad, and god I hope and pray for that fateful day. It will be an embarrassment for the MPD (since I’m a prosecutor) and just further prove the point of power trips. Also if I survive, a nice civil tort payout from the city. So yea I pray to get matched with the officer who’s a cocky sonafagun. I always have my camera running and I got a lot of law school debt to pay off. Don’t levy “it’s gonna go bad” one day threats to me—that exactly the power trips ya’ll need to understand is not correct and why your relations with the residents you police is so paltry. It doesn’t matter how disrespectful a citizen is — you don’t get to “look for a reason to ticket or arrest” him. Is that reality? Yes. But it’s still wrong and why community relations is so bad, because officers think of revenge first versus diffusing the situation. That’s bad training or bad officer hiring. Either way, your threat doesn’t scare me, it further proves my point.

          • HaileUnlikely

            You have a lot of debt from getting a lot of degrees, and you are seeking to pay down your loans by baiting a police officer into killing you. That makes sense. Sounds like you got a great education for your money.

          • “From the vantage point of being both a criminal and a prosecutor”? If you have the vantage point of being a criminal, then you are a criminal and I’m not sure you deserve any more respect than you give/gave the victims of whatever crimes you seem proud of committing/having committed. Alas, I’m not sure if your arrogance or your bad grammar is worse, but the bar for DC prosecutors is so low, I shouldn’t be surprised.

          • Surely the meaning was “From the vantage point of being both a criminal prosecutor and a civil prosecutor”?

  • Thank you to the OP. Sounds like the man and woman were being totally peaceful and minding their own business, and they looked like easy targets to the police. Imagine having your lovely afternoon picnic interrupted like this and ending up in handcuffs for no reason. The people defending the cops and pointing out they it’s illegal to have a joint in the park are totally missing the point, because they think this would never happen to them, so it doesn’t matter. They must have brought it upon themselves, right? An injustice to one is an injustice to all.
    Does this quality as an illegal search of their property? Did the police actually have cause to search? The police decided to target them and would have arrested them no matter how the couple reacted.

  • par for the course in DC, unfortunately. if they were white this almost certainly wouldn’t have been an issue. check the stats on racial disparities for weed arrests here, to all those “well if it’s against the law then it’s applied equally to all” ignoramuses out there.

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