Relisha Rudd, the 8-year-old girl living at the homeless shelter at the old D.C. General hospital, was last seen on March 1 in Northeast D.C. with Kahil Malik Tatum, a 51-year-old shelter employee. More than four months later, Relisha is still missing and Tatum is dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Beyond that we officially know nothing.
On April 8, at the height of the public furor over Relisha’s apparent abduction, Mayor Vincent C. Gray ordered a thorough review of the city agencies that had contact with the missing girl. He said he had directed Beatriz “BB” Otero, deputy mayor for health and human services, and Abigail Smith, deputy mayor for education, to oversee the review.
I expressed reservations at the time about Otero reviewing agencies under her jurisdiction, especially since homelessness issues fell under her purview. Yet I believed the inquiry would be easily and quickly conducted, since the programs, contractors, agencies and case records associated with Relisha and her family were accessible.
Nonetheless, I waited for six weeks before I asked Pedro Ribeiro, the mayor’s spokesman, on May 13 about the results of the review. Ribeiro’s email reply was surprising. The review, he said “takes time. Mid to late June is the most likely timeframe.” He said Otero and Smith’s review team was following same protocols and procedures used by the Child Fatality Review Board, except the Otero-Smith team “would not, like the Child Fatality Review Board, have subpoena powers.”
I found that worrisome. First, the Child Fatality Review Board generally looks into the death of children. Relisha Rudd has not been declared dead. In addition, the Board operates in strict secrecy. The Board’s protocols state “Except as permitted by relevant legislation and Mayor’s Orders, information and records of the Committees/Board shall not be disclosed voluntarily, pursuant to a subpoena, in response to a request for discovery in any adjudicative proceeding, or in response to a request made under Title II of the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act…”
Nonetheless, I waited until June 30 before again asking Ribeiro about the report. His same day reply: “They are still interviewing folks mid/late July is the likely finish date.”
Last week, I asked if the report will be released to the public. Ribeiro wrote on July 3, “Yes, but there are portions that will have to be redacted or removed because of federal and local privacy laws.” So we’ll just have to wait.
Here’s wishing the mayor’s report will tell us more than the D.C. Fire and Emergency Service said about the firefighters inside the Northeast D.C. station in January who ignored cries for help after 77-year-old Medric “Cecil” Mills Jr. collapsed and later died across the street. The FEMS investigation went behind closed doors, never to be seen again. Is that what we have in store with Relisha Rudd?
Let’s hope not. According to the D.C. Freedom of Information Act, District residents are entitled to full and complete information regarding the behavior of their government and the acts of those who represent them as public official and employees. Relisha Rudd, as a resident at a D.C. homeless shelter, was in the city’s care. The organization which operates the shelter and which employed Khalil Tatum, the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, works in behalf of the city — i.e. city taxpayers. We shell out $13 million a year to that group to run the shelter.
What did the Community Partnership, its managers and employees do or fail to do to protect Relisha Rudd? What about the D.C. officials responsible for overseeing the Community Partnership? Relisha was last seen on March 1. When will the Mayor’s review be seen? And what, if anything, will it have to say?