May 30, 2011 -- The U.S. Park Police are investigating whether excessive force was used in the arrest of five protesters Saturday, who silently danced in the interior of the Jefferson Memorial to protest a recent ruling against dancing at federal monuments.
Videos posted to YouTube over the weekend show park police officers in light blue polo shirts handcuffing dancers. It looked as if one protester, who was wearing a "Disobey" T-shirt, had been body-slammed by an officer, and choked.
In a YouTube video of Saturday's incident, when a police officer asked the protestors which one of them was the leader, a member of the group pointed toward the statue of Thomas Jefferson inside the rotunda.
"I'll give you a warning," the officer said calmly. "If you come out here and you demonstrate by dancing, you will be placed under arrest. ... Does everybody understand that?"
Groups looking to protest at federal monuments are required to obtain permits.
Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser told the Associated Press Monday that the Park Police chief had directed the Office of Professional Responsibility to conduct an investigation into the officers' conduct.
The dancers were protesting a January 2011 decision by a federal judge who'd ruled that dancing quietly at the memorial was an illegal demonstration and not an expression of free speech.
On April 12, 2008, on the eve of Jefferson's 265th birthday, 17 dancers wore headphones and silently sashayed around the interior of the memorial. One woman was arrested. Although criminal charges against her were dropped, one of the other protesters filed a suit against the U.S. Park Service, claiming the arrest was illegal.
"The purpose of the memorial is to publicize Thomas Jefferson's legacy, so that critics and supporters alike may contemplate his place in history," U.S. District Judge John Bates wrote in his decision.
"Prohibiting demonstrations is a reasonable means of ensuring a tranquil and contemplative mood at the Jefferson Memorial," he wrote.