Murder suspect swapped places with another man to escape courthouse, police say

July 16, 2011

By the time the real Bradley Allen stood up, suspected murderer James “Sticky” Brewer had already slipped away.

Brewer, who police believe was involved in the June 27 shooting death of a 71-year-old Army veteran in Southeast Washington, escaped from D.C. Superior Court on Friday afternoon. Court papers say that he did it by swapping courthouse identification bracelets with Allen, who faced a misdemeanor drug charge.

When Allen’s case was called, it was Brewer who stood before the judge. Brewer was released — on Allen’s own recognizance — and walked out of the courthouse. He was on the loose for roughly 23 hours — long enough to shear off his shoulder-length dreadlocks and set off a furious regional manhunt.

Accompanied by a public defender, Brewer, 24, surrendered to the U.S. Marshals Service without incident Saturday afternoon, less than two blocks from the Indiana Avenue courthouse he’d walked out of.

He is now in the custody of District police and faces additional charges for eluding custody, authorities said. He will be arraigned — this time as himself — on Monday.

“They ain’t got nothing on him,” Brewer’s mother, Rochell, said in an interview shortly after his surrender. She said people who know her son advised him to turn himself in, knowing that he claims innocence in the homicide case. “They said, ‘You didn’t do nothing, so turn yourself in.’ They told him, ‘You got four kids. You don’t want to be across the news if you didn’t do it. You’re innocent until proven guilty.’ ”

The escape is under investigation, according to a news release from the Marshals Service, which is responsible for securing the D.C. Superior Courthouse. The Marshals Service did not return calls for comment.

But court documents and interviews with law-enforcement and courthouse sources point to a fairly simple explanation: Brewer duped authorities with a simple switcheroo and walked out the door, in plain view.

“I’ve been there over 10 years, and I’m not aware that this has ever happened before,” said D.C. Superior Court spokeswoman Leah Gurowitz.

Authorities said Brewer, of Southeast Washington, had been arrested Thursday in Newport News, where, according to his mother, his girlfriend lives. He was at the courthouse the next day for his arraignment on a charge of felony murder while armed.

Investigators allege that Brewer was one of three men who attacked Solomon Reese during an apparent attempt to rob him at his apartment house on Good Hope Road SE in June. One of the other men fired a gold-colored handgun multiple times, striking Reese in the chest, court papers say.

Brewer was at the courthouse Friday for his arraignment. But he never made it before Magistrate Judge Karen Howze — at least not as James Brewer.

According to the court docket, he “switched ID bands” with Allen, 30, of Northwest, who was facing a misdemeanor charge of possession of a controlled substance (PCP).

The wristbands worn at the courthouse are plastic D.C. police department bracelets not unlike those used in hospitals. They include the arrestee’s name and lockup number along with a small black-and-white mugshot. According to a source investigating the incident, Allen’s appearance was similar to Brewer’s, at least before Brewer’s post-escape haircut.

Both men — Allen, lockup No. 36, and Brewer, lockup No. 53 — were held in a cellblock in the bowels of the building on Indiana Avenue. Some time between arriving at the courthouse and appearing before Howze in arraignment courtroom C10, court papers say, the armbands were switched.

It wasn’t clear whether Allen was coerced or swapped IDs willingly; he could not be reached to comment.

Wearing the lockup No. 36 bracelet and stating his name as Bradley Allen, Brewer was arraigned on Allen’s misdemeanor charge Friday afternoon and released. Only later, when lockup No. 53 turned out to be Allen, did authorities realize that a suspected murderer was on the lam.

Allen was later arraigned as himself and released.

Brewer quickly became the focus of a Marshals Service fugitive task force, which posted a reward for his arrest and declared him to be armed and dangerous.

William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting Brewer, declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

Reese grew up in Alabama, the oldest son among 15 children, family members said. His brother Kenneth said he worked to help homeless people, especially veterans.

Kenneth Reese, a detective with the Alabama State Police, said he wasn’t surprised by the escape.

“That could easily happen,” Kenneth Reese said.

Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford and staff writers Clarence Williams and Keith L. Alexander contributed to this report.

J. Freedom du Lac is the editor of The Post's general assignment news desk. He was previously a Local enterprise reporter and, before that, the paper’s pop music critic.
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