The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREENE
Presently pending before this Court are two motions to suppress
evidence against three criminal defendants. On May 23, 1985 two units of the United States Park Police Narcotics Task Force executed search warrants at 221 R Street and 233 Florida Avenue. The search warrants had been issued by Superior Court judges for alleged violations of 33 D.C. Code § 541, the District of Columbia Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 1981. During a search of the R Street residence of defendant Alatishe, the Park Police found "a quantity of brown powder, suspected heroin, approx. 8 oz.," certain unregistered firearms, and a sum of money. The search of the Florida Avenue apartment apparently uncovered heroin.
In the last two years, the Park Police has established a Narcotics Task Force which enforces federal and local drug laws throughout the District of Columbia. This task force apparently operates without any coordination with the Metropolitan Police. For example, there was testimony in this case that the Metropolitan Police had an ongoing investigation of the same defendants and was somewhat surprised to discover that the Park Police had conducted a drug raid.
Moreover, whether due to inadequate training or excessive zeal, the Park Police has made a rather sorry show of this investigation and of a previous case recently before this Court.
The facts of this case are egregious also in that, as noted below, they resulted in an unwarranted three-month detention without bond for defendant Alatishe.
The Park Police discovered a quantity of powder at the Alatishe residence. A member of that police force testified that he field-tested the powder and that it tested positive for the presence of a controlled substance. Indeed, his field test was said to have revealed that the heroin concentration in the powder was particularly high. On the basis of that finding, the defendant was charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin. Again, based apparently on the results of the field test, Park Police officers testified at the initial bail hearing that the substance was heroin of an extremely high purity with a street value of $450,000, and the U.S. Magistrate thereupon ordered defendant to be held without bond pending appeal. That determination was reversed by Chief Judge Aubrey Robinson but was then reinstated by the U.S. Court of Appeals. United States v. Alatishe, 768 F.2d 364 (D.C. Cir. 1985).
On July 13, 1985, the Drug Enforcement Agency completed its testing of the powder in question, and it determined that there were no controlled substances whatever in the powder, whether heroin or otherwise. These results were not transmitted to the U.S. Attorney until August 14, 1985 apparently because of a typing backlog at the DEA.
The Court was finally informed of these results on August 22, 1985, at which time it ordered defendant Alatishe released on his own recognizance.
At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the Park Police officers could offer no explanation of how they could have field-tested a powder as having a very high concentration of heroin when it contained no trace of a controlled substance. Whatever the explanation, defendant Alatishe was incarcerated for three months based upon erroneous Park Police testimony.
The legislative history available to determine the authority of the Park Police in the District of Columbia is both limited and obscure. In 1876, Congress enacted a law which provided that the duties and the authority of the Metropolitan Police "shall extend to and include all public squares or places; and [the board of the metropolitan police] is hereby authorized and required to make appropriate rules and regulations in relation thereto." Act of July 31, 1876, 19 Stat 102, Ch. 246. Six years later, legislation was enacted relating to "watchmen" in the District of Columbia (later renamed Park Police), which provided that "hereafter all watchmen provided for by the United States Government for service in any of the public squares and reservations in the District of Columbia shall have and perform the same powers and duties as the Metropolitan police of said District." Act of August 5, 1882, 22 Stat. 219, Ch. 389, presently codified at 4 D.C. Code § 201 (1981).
The first interpretation of this statute appears to be a letter by the Attorney General dated July 30, 1886, 18 Op. Atty. Gen. 433. This letter states:
The powers and duties of the metropolitan police are conferred upon these watchmen by the act itself, without the intervention of any appointment from the commissioners of the District. The legislative purpose was to invest these watchmen with the powers and duties of the metropolitan police without connecting them with that organization.
One of these watchmen has the same authority for arresting offenders and turning them over to the courts for trial that a metropolitan policeman would have who was detailed to perform a watchman's duties.
A number of subsequent statements lend credence to the claim that the Park Police have concurrent authority with the Metropolitan Police. In 1924, Congress gave the Director of the National Park Service the authority to appoint special policemen whose jurisdiction was limited to the parks; however, that jurisdiction was explicitly distinguished from the ...