Park officers to keep beat

Judge denies protesters' plea

By Greg Seigle

Three U.S. Park Police officers -- including one who fatally shot a knife-wielding homeless man in front of the White House -- can continue to patrol Lafayette Park despite a suit filed by three anti-government demonstrators living there who say the three harass them, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey denied the protesters' request for a temporary restraining order to bar the officers because they could not prove the officers were an immediate threat.

Security near the White House has been so threatened in recent months that Park Police must retain their power to control the area, the judge said.

However, Judge Richey set a hearing for Thursday on the protesters' further motion for preliminary injunction against the officers.

The protesters had asked Judge Richey to temporarily take the three officers - Stephen O'Neill, Jeff Leon Capps and another park policeman named only as "Keness"-- off their beat in Lafayette Park until a civil suit they filed against the officers has been settled. No trial date has been set.

The suit asks the officers to be kept from patrolling the park, where they often "kick people and stick them with nightsticks," said William Thomas, a longtime anti-nuclear protester who filed the suit Dec. 22.

"The plaintiffs have failed ... to meet the first tes," Judge Richey said before denying the protester's request. "This is not the first time these people have made sweeping allegations."

The failure to secure a temporary restraining order upset about a dozen protesters -- mostly homeless men -- who sat through yesterday's proceedings.

Mr. Thomas, a bearded man with a long ponytail, said the three officers regularly assert "intense psychological intimidation" on people who loiter in the park across Pennsylwania Avenue from the White House.

The protesters claim Officer O'Neill treated them particularly poorly. But a spokesman for the Park Police said all of the officers have simply been doing their job, which includes keeping people from sleeping or camping in the park illegally.

The protesters assert that the harassment meted out by the officers directly led to the fatal shooting of Marcelino Corniel, 33, on Dec. 20.

Mr. Thomas said Officer O'Neill has harassed people in the park for months and that he kicked and prodded Mr. Corniel with a nightstick on the morning the homeless man was shot.

"The shooting of Marcelino Corniel illustrates we're being put in very dangerous situations," Mr. Thomas told the judge. "The government won't suffer any ill effects if these three officers are assigned elsewhere."

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Sally Rider said the officers have done nothing wrong.

"We don't see any emergency" Mrs. Rider said. "When people are sleeping in the park, they are awakened. There's certainly nothing wrong with that."

The Associated Press contributed to this Article.