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Last Updated

16 Aug 2003

Source: Washington Post, August 16, 2003

Scientist Loses Latest Round

'Person of Interest' In Anthrax Case Fined in Traffic Tiff

By Henri E. Cauvin, Washington Post Staff Writer

Steven J. Hatfill knows all too well that shaking the FBI is just about impossible, and yesterday, the 49-year-old scientist found out that dodging a traffic citation isn't so easy, either.

Hatfill, described "as a person of interest" in the investigation into the anthrax-laced mailings that killed five people and sickened 17 others in late 2001, has been shadowed by the FBI for months -- which is how he ended up in the District's traffic court yesterday.

After Hatfill, who has denied any involvement in the anthrax attacks, tried to photograph an FBI employee who was tailing him May 17, the scientist's foot was run over. And he wound up with a citation, issued by D.C. police, for "walking to create a hazard."

He and his attorneys fought the ticket yesterday. But after listening for nearly a half-hour to the officer who issued the citation and to Hatfill's attorneys, a hearing officer upheld the ticket and ordered Hatfill to pay the requisite $5 fine. The hearing officer said Hatfill's injury did not change the fact that he was breaking the law.

Because Hatfill stepped into the roadway, "the violation was complete," hearing officer Stephen Lawson told Hatfill and his attorneys.

It was a traffic hearing like few others at the Department of Motor Vehicles office on K Street NE. A dozen reporters crammed into the small hearing room, and the commotion surrounding Hatfill's appearance drew curious stares from workers and DMV customers inside and outside the building.

Dressed in a dark blue suit, a white shirt and a red tie, Hatfill sat between his attorneys during the proceedings, periodically huddling to confer with them.

Hatfill, a virus expert who worked from 1997 to 1999 in the Army's infectious diseases laboratory at Fort Detrick, has accused the FBI of harassing him. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft has called Hatfill a "person of interest" in the anthrax probe, but authorities have not publicly labeled him a suspect.

Aside from his one-word denial of the traffic charge at the start of the hearing and a few words of small talk afterward, Hatfill said nothing.

But he hardly had to.

One of the lawyers, Thomas G. Connolly, was eager to paint the traffic case as part of what he called the "unrelenting campaign of harassment the FBI has imposed on Steven Hatfill."

"This is what Steven Hatfill's life has come to," he said.

For months, Hatfill has been the subject of round-the-clock surveillance, and, in May, the activity led to a confrontation.

Out to run errands with his girlfriend on a Saturday, Hatfill was being tailed particularly aggressively, he said, and after parking on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Georgetown, he tried to confront FBI specialist Bryan Blankenship.

When Hatfill approached Blankenship and tried to take a picture, Blankenship took out a video camera, began filming Hatfill and then tried to pull away, according to Hatfill's account. Blankenship ran over Hatfill's right foot, police said. Hatfill fell to the ground, and onlookers called police.

When D.C. police officer Clyde Pringle arrived at the scene in the 1800 block of Wisconsin Avenue, he quickly discovered that this was no routine traffic mishap. The FBI "told me they follow him 24 hours a day," Pringle told Hatfill's other attorney, Eric Bravin, during the hearing yesterday.

"I didn't ask too much about their business," Pringle said of the FBI. "I was there for the accident."

And so after sorting out what happened, Pringle said, he opened his list of citations in search of one that fit. In nearly five years on the force, Pringle had never cited someone for walking to create a hazard.

The FBI specialist was not cited in the matter. Pringle defended his actions during the hearing.

"The accident would not have happened if Mr. Hatfill could have walked on the sidewalk," Pringle said in defense of his decision to ticket Hatfill.

Connolly said it was not surprising that only Hatfill was ticketed. "That's the way the game is played," he said. "Is it fair? Of course, it's not. But that is what Steven Hatfill's life has become."

Last year, federal agents searched the Frederick apartment Hatfill lived in, and they have searched ponds in the Frederick area in failed attempts to find evidence of anthrax bacteria.