Men Break Window, Escape D.C. Jail

Joseph Leaks (left) and Ricardo Jones (right) broke out of a D.C. jail Saturday.
Joseph Leaks (left) and Ricardo Jones (right) broke out of a D.C. jail Saturday.
By Brigid Schulte and Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 4, 2006

Ricardo Jones and Joseph Leaks had been inmates in the D.C. jail since August, and last month were indicted in connection with a murder. Yesterday, in the jail's most audacious breakout in recent memory, the two stormed into the warden's empty office shortly after 10 a.m., smashed through a reinforced glass window with furniture, scampered onto a canopy and escaped, officials said.

They remained at large last night, despite a manhunt by the Joint Fugitive Task Force, which included the D.C. police, its K-9 squad, detectives and helicopters, and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Jones, 25, of Hyattsville, had been awaiting trial on five counts of first-degree murder and illegal firearms possession. Leaks, 32, of Northeast Washington, who also goes by the alias of "Joseph Poindexter," had been charged with nine counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and other charges, including illegal firearms possession and obstruction of justice on suspicion of attempting to get a witness to change her story.

The fugitives were last seen on a Metro shuttle bus near the Stadium-Armory station, D.C. police said. The buses were running every five minutes because the station was closed for track maintenance. The two rode it across the Anacostia River and got off at the Orange Line's Minnesota Avenue stop, police said. Police later stopped a man in a blue jumpsuit at the station, but released him.

"This is very, very troubling," said D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the D.C. police and jail. "Nobody should be able to get out of the jail. That's the whole point. This sounds like it was too easy."

Jones is charged with fatally shooting David Valentine on July 6.

The two are also wanted in Greensboro, N.C., in connection with the shooting of a security guard in August.

A D.C. corrections officer coming into work yesterday morning spotted the two inmates sliding down the canopy outside the warden's window. He chased them from a plaza up 19th Street SE, but the two split up and eluded him.

At a briefing yesterday, Department of Corrections officials could not explain why the men were in that area, rather than the heavily secured inmate wing. Nor could they explain why the two were wearing blue jumpsuits, as the police reported, rather than distinctive bright orange attire. Almost all inmates wear the orange jumpsuits, officials said. The blue jumpsuits are reserved only for prisoners about to be released.

Mendelson said the fact that the two wore blue jumpsuits shows they acted with premeditation.

"These guys clearly had thought through what they were doing," he said. "This was not just an opportunity of the moment. This was a weakness that they found and exploited."

He said that as more details of the escape emerge, he intends to hold hearings into what went wrong.

Devon Brown, director of the Department of Corrections, said at a late-afternoon briefing -- about six hours after the inmates escaped -- that his department will review whether co-defendants Jones and Leaks were supposed to have been separated and whether other inmate protocols were followed.

"This is not an easy task to accomplish," Brown said of the daring escape. If any staff is found culpable, he added, discipline will be "severe and prompt."

The D.C. jail and its 1,856 inmates remained in lockdown throughout the day, with visits and other activities suspended until further notice.

The D.C. jail has a history of stabbings, gun smuggling and violence. But Mendelson noted that this escape is the first major breach since Brown took over as director of corrections this year. In that time, Mendelson said, reports of violence and trouble have declined.

"I'm not ready to indict the director over this," he said.

In June 2004, Douglas Cleveland, who had been arrested on importing firearms and drug charges, escaped from the District's Correctional Treatment Facility in the jail annex. He was found at a motel on Richmond Highway in Alexandria after a headcount showed he had gone missing. In January, an inmate with a record of small-time felonies being transported to D.C. Superior Court escaped near the entrance to the Third Street tunnel in Northwest Washington and clung to the underside of a prisoner transport bus. When he lost his grip, he fell and was crushed by oncoming cars.

Leaks had been paroled in September 2003 from a 24-year prison sentence on firearms, robbery and assault charges, according to corrections officials. He ended up back in the D.C. jail Aug. 18 after being charged with possession of ammunition and obstruction of justice.

Jones had been in the D.C. jail since Aug. 26, charged with assault with intent to kill. It is unclear whether those charges are related to Valentine's killing.

According to court documents, on July 6, Valentine was walking in the 1200 block of Meigs Place NE, near where Leaks lived. Valentine stopped to hitch up his pants.

Leaks, on a porch, brandished a handgun, saying Valentine needed to be careful in a neighborhood like this. Valentine said he didn't appreciate a gun being waved at him. He walked away, but soon returned. Then, the affidavit says, Jones approached Valentine and shot him in the chest. Valentine was taken to Washington Hospital Center, where he died at 11:55 p.m.

Leaks took off with Jones in Leaks's gray station wagon, the charging documents say. The two fled first to Maryland and then to North Carolina, according to the documents.

Sgt. Joe Gentile of the D.C. police asked that anyone with information on the men's whereabouts take no direct action but contact police at 202-727-9099. The department is offering a $10,000 reward, $5,000 for each fugitive, for information leading to their apprehension.

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