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Families of Victims Often Left Wondering

By Cheryl W. Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 4, 2000

For seven years, Warren Roberts has wondered who killed his nephew, Pernell Roberts, in a drive-by shooting in the 4200 block of First Street SE.

Roberts hasn't heard from D.C. police detectives since he identified the 31-year-old's body at the morgue. He didn't know the U.S. attorney's office declined to issue an arrest warrant for a suspect six weeks after the slaying because they had only one eyewitness. He didn't know that the case then sat uninvestigated for four years. And he didn't know that police closed the case administratively in March 1998 after a homicide task force reinvestigated it and found that one of the suspects was dead. The others involved were never charged with the crime, according to police records.

"I never heard anything about the case," a weeping Roberts said as he clutched a photo of his favorite nephew. "They should have called me."

When D.C. police close cases administratively without arrests, the relatives of victims sometimes sit by wondering what happened.

Jack Mims's younger brother, Lenwood, was fatally beaten with an iron rod and kicked and stomped in the head in April 1998 in the 600 block of Gallatin Street NE. The case was closed administratively after Mims's friend fatally shot the man who beat Mims.

Mims said detectives never returned his repeated telephone calls.

"No one should have to have gone through what I went through to get the five W's--who, what, where, when and why," he said. "You call; they don't call you back. You go down to see them; they won't see you.

"It took me 2 1/2 weeks to track down the investigator, and then I found out he wasn't the one handling the case. It was impossible. Every day I had to come back and tell my mother the sad story--that I knew nothing. It's just very bad treatment of victims and their families."

Mims said his only contact with police was when he went to the 5th District in Northeast to retrieve the Cadillac that Lenwood was driving at the time of his death. Police kept the car for six weeks, although they closed the case four days after his death.

"The car was released from homicide, but no one could find the paperwork," Mims said. "It was a nightmare."

Lenwood Mims's mother, Bertha Mims, was devastated when she learned that her youngest son had been killed. "They told me, 'Mother Mims, we have some bad news to tell you.' I just started screaming. I thought the police were going to talk to me about it. They didn't."

Harvey Johnson's daughter, Patricia Ann Tollar, was standing on the street in the 3400 block of Minnesota Avenue SE on July 14, 1997, talking with a man when he pulled out a gun and fired three shots into the mother of four. The suspect was killed several weeks later, and police closed the Tollar case administratively without an arrest. Detectives didn't tell her family.

"I tried to find out what happened, but no one ever told me anything," Johnson said. "I'm so upset."

Vera Manning couldn't say no to her youngest child, Michael, when he asked to move back to his parents' apartment in the 800 block of 21st Street NE in December 1994.

"I told him, 'This is the last time you're moving back home,' " Vera Manning recalled. "Little did I know it would be the last time."

As Michael, 22, mopped his mother's kitchen floor with Clorox, the fumes bothered his asthma and he went outside to get some air. As he stood across the street chatting with a friend, someone came by and opened fire, killing Michael.

" 'Where is my child?' was the first thing that came to mind," she remembered. "I ran downstairs but couldn't see him."

Manning recalled seeing a "tall, white detective" at the hospital. "He handed me his business card and said, 'If you find out anything, give me a call.' I thought, 'You're the one who's supposed to call me.' "

Manning said she never spoke with the detective again. She later heard on the street that the person who shot her son was in prison. Police records show that the case was closed administratively in August 1997. There is nothing to indicate whether the suspect is in prison or was killed.

"Between December 3, 1994, and now, not one time have I heard from anyone in the D.C. police department," she said. "I'd like to know how they solved it."

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