Suspect Who Prompted an E-Mail Drive Freed Again

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles called the release of a youth suspected in 21 robberies
D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles called the release of a youth suspected in 21 robberies "absolutely outrageous." (Haraz N. Ghanbari - AP)
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By Robert E. Pierre and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A teenage robbery suspect whose releases from juvenile court led to an unusual police-inspired e-mail campaign has been released again.

The youth, whose alleged offenses have provoked outrage in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, was picked up last week as a suspect in three robberies there. After being in custody Friday, he was freed once again, this time as a result of what appeared to be a paperwork mix-up.

District officials said they asked the U.S. attorney's office to charge the youth as an adult in a recent robbery. But prosecutors said they lacked legal grounds, which ultimately led to his release.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said U.S. marshals should have kept the youth in custody for further proceedings as a juvenile.

He said the marshals lost an order that would have held the youth.

A spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service said last night that a check Friday showed no reason for the marshals to hold him. He said the youth had already been released by the time the service was "made aware" of a juvenile custody order against him, "at which point we dispatched our warrant squad to bring him into custody."

Nickles called the youth's release "absolutely outrageous."

"I got on the phone this morning just to assure myself that he was in custody. I learned that the U.S. attorney's [office] has no-papered the case," meaning prosecutors decided against charging him, Nickles said.

Police began looking for the youth, who they said was suspected in 21 robberies this year, about 2 p.m. and had not rearrested him as of late last night, Nickles said.

After the youth had twice been released by a Superior Court judge, a D.C. police inspector last week called on residents to e-mail Nickles's office, the U.S. attorney's office and the courts.

Inspector Edward Delgado wrote that judges had twice released the youth after deeming him unfit for trial and had thus endangered residents.

"Time is critical in this matter," Delgado wrote to subscribers to the 3rd District substation e-mail group. "Let them not release this criminal again."

The most recent release came after the decision not to charge the youth as an adult. For 16- and 17-year-olds to be charged as adults for robbery, a weapon must be involved, authorities said.

Police said the juvenile had been sneaking up behind victims, knocking them to the ground and swiping money, cellphones and iPods.

Except for one case, in which a source said a weapon was used, the robberies involved no weapon.

"There was insufficient evidence to go forward," said Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office. He declined to be more specific.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company