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D.C. Homicide File Found on Maryland Roadside

By Cheryl W. Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 13, 2000

A Charles County resident recently found something D.C. police apparently didn't know was missing: a 1997 District homicide case file.

The file was found just before Thanksgiving along St. Charles Parkway in Waldorf in a black leather bag. The resident turned over the bag to the Charles County sheriff's office, according to Lt. Tim Crawford, who oversees its property management unit.

"Yes, there was some property recovered that was, in fact, the property of the Metropolitan Police Department," Crawford said.

The bag and file belonged to a 5th District detective whom D.C. Police Capt. James Crane refused to identify.

Crane also declined to identify the homicide victim whose case file was left along the busy thoroughfare. Police also wouldn't say whether the file was opened.

"I can't comment on that," Crane said.

The detective who lost the file and bag never called Charles County authorities to report it missing.

"We called them," Crawford said.

The items were retrieved from Charles County "a day or two later" by 5th District Sgt. Jeffrey Hoop and Detective Austin Braxton, Crawford said. The pair signed for the items and left their telephone number. Hoop was not available when called for comment twice. Braxton declined to comment.

"Why are you asking me about that?" Braxton said before turning over the call to Crane.

A 5th District official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the detective who lost the file was in Charles County interviewing a witness and inadvertently left the file and bag on the hood of his car while talking to sheriff's deputies.

"He forgot," he said. "It's just like someone losing their purse."

D.C. police have been criticized over the years for losing hundreds of homicide case files. A report by the National Drug Intelligence Center studying all 1,827 D.C. homicide cases from 1991 to 1994 found that 613 were missing. The report, which was requested in 1993 by then-Chief Fred Thomas and finished in 1996, was ignored until consultants stumbled on it in fall 1997.

Then-Chief Larry D. Soulsby promised more accountability, including a locked file room monitored by a security camera. But the problems continued.

A year-long investigation by The Washington Post published last week found fundamental flaws in D.C. homicide investigations, including hundreds of missing and incomplete case files. More than 375 were missing a week ago, according to an internal memo.

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said that he didn't know about the file found in Charles County.

"I'm not aware of it," Ramsey said. "That's the first time I've heard of a homicide case file being found on the street."

Fifth District officials acknowledged that they did not notify Ramsey about the file.

"This wasn't worthy of a memo to the chief," Crane said.

Ramsey, who is under mounting pressure to reform the department and the way it investigates homicides, pledged to look into the matter.

"If someone found a homicide case file on the street, then that is an individual detective's negligence," he said.

Staff writer Annie Gowen contributed to this report.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company