Racine seeks dismissal of suit alleging DC police watchlist of critics

D.C.’s attorney general is pushing for the dismissal of a lawsuit that alleges District police maintain a watchlist of critics.

In a court filing late last week, Karl Racine said that the lawsuit brought by defense attorney Amy Phillips earlier this year has no legal standing, and that even if the watchlist does exist, informing police leadership about high profile information requests “is not a discriminatory motive.”

“Providing information up the chain of command to ensure that the Chief of Police is prepared to communicate to the press about high-profile matters or issues that may be the subject of future litigation is a sensible policy,” said Racine.

If there were delays in information requests, Racine said, they were “isolated lapses” and do not show a “pattern of enforcement activity based on content or viewpoint.”

Phillips’ lawyer Charlie Gerstein called Racine’s brief “remarkable.”

“It’s one thing to say that the watchlist doesn’t exist, which they will have an opportunity to do later in the case,” Gerstein told WTOP. “It’s another thing … to say that the watchlist policy is OK.”

Phillips said that in 2019, D.C. police refused her Freedom of Information Act request on alleged police misconduct. And she contends that former police Chief Peter Newsham kept an unofficial list of police critics and reporters whose requests were delayed or denied if they asked for information that might be embarrassing to the department.

Newsham, now the police chief of Prince William County, Virginia, said earlier this year that he was informed “if information was leaving the building,” so he could be ready to respond. But he denied there was a watchlist created to limit information.

Gerstein plans on filing a response to Racine’s brief that will aggressively argue the watchlist policy violates the constitution.

“We know that there is a list and we look forward to proving so in court,” said Gerstein, adding they have a former D.C. police FOIA officer who will help them prove their case.

Shayna Estulin

Shayna Estulin is an anchor/reporter for WTOP. She started her career in New York City as a local TV reporter and has since covered foreign affairs and national politics as a Washington correspondent. She also anchored a nightly news show for an international network.

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