A Deadly Toll Is Reduced to 'Anecdotes'

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, February 21, 2009

Seventeen-year-old Diedrick R. Johnson faces a maximum statutory penalty of 75 years when he goes to court for sentencing on June 12.

The successful prosecution of Johnson was praised by the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia in a Feb. 13 press release. Indeed, D.C. detectives and assistant U.S. attorneys put together a case strong enough to get Johnson convicted as an adult.

You may have missed his guilty plea. A two-sentence notice appeared on Page B3 of The Post's Metro section last Saturday.

Maybe that's all the play it deserved.

After all, much has already been written about Johnson, including two columns I wrote a year ago. ["A Teen Released, Nine People Shot. Why?," Feb 2, 2008; "Who Couldn't Find Diedrick Johnson?," Feb. 16, 2008.] All that needed to be said about him has been said, so, you might ask, why devote precious space to a story already told?

After all, there's no way to undo what was done on Jan. 11, 2008, when Johnson fired a .40-caliber handgun at a group of teenagers walking down the street, striking five, including one teen who still has a bullet lodged in his chest.

It's also impossible to undo his Jan. 22, 2008, firing of a .380-caliber handgun multiple times into a crowd of Ballou High School students. In that case, four students -- all of them innocent individuals walking home from school -- were struck. One of them still has a bullet lodged in his back.

Why another story about Diedrick Johnson when there are so many other more pressing things to write about -- the failing economy, Roland Burris's brain cramp, the New York Post's dead-chimp cartoon?

Yet another tale about the city's juvenile justice system?

Well, yes, but with a twist.

Diedrick Johnson's story has been told over and over in this space, with different names but with the same essential facts: A D.C. youth in trouble with the law is put into the city's custody by a court, only to be released back into the community, and, while he is on the streets under the city's supervision, the youth either commits or becomes the victim of a crime.

Except that this column will end in a way the others did not.

There will be no calls for an impartial investigation into what actually happens to a youth in the custody of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, the city's juvenile justice agency.

There will be no more questions about how the city decides to release a youth from court-ordered secure detention. No more voiced skepticism about the quality of community supervision that these youths receive. No more expressions of doubts about the accuracy and reliability of DYRS claims.

After writing about problems in DYRS for more than a year, I believe it is clear that city officials remain satisfied with the agency's stewardship and direction; otherwise, they would have made changes.

A D.C. Council member told me that my columns about DYRS simply contain "anecdotes," the same dismissive label that DYRS Director Vincent Schiraldi reportedly applied to my columns in a public forum last year.

So there it is.

Lo, a steady stream of juvenile justice columns over these many months signifies nothing.

I must, therefore, apologize to you, dear readers, for wasting your time with columns about the youths and conditions in DYRS, such as:

· Diedrick Johnson and his nine shooting victims.

· Lafonte Lurie Carlton and the two people he allegedly killed.

· The arrest of brothers Joshua and Christian Benton in connection with drive-by shootings in which a 13-year-old boy was fatally wounded.

· The consecutive 50-month sentences given to Douglas Chambers, 17, for several armed robberies.

· The use of drugs at the city's so-called secure youth detention facility, Oak Hill.

· Irresponsible and misleading DYRS statistics.

· Overcrowding at DYRS's Youth Services Center.

· The Aug. 9 shooting death of 15-year-old Drevon Proctor.

· The escape of Gerald Long, 17, from Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.

· Armed teenagers roaming the streets pulling stickups at 3 a.m.

· Errick Woods, 20, found dead with multiple gunshot wounds.

· The 17-year-old Oak Hill inmate who escaped from Schiraldi's home, where he had been taken for a cookout.

· Oak Hill resident Derrick Fuller, 18, who married and ran off with a 32-year-old DYRS correctional officer.

· The DYRS fugitive who turned up at a D.C. Council hearing to witness Schiraldi testifying about his agency's good works.

· Cortez Durrell Lilly, 17, killed when the stolen motorcycle on which he was riding collided with a pickup truck.

· Deanthony M. Henson, 20, fatally shot.

· A 17-year-old youth, given a one-day pass from Oak Hill over his grandmother's objection, suspected in armed robberies and a carjacking and arrested after a police chase.

· A 16-year-old sex offender whom the court and court social services strongly recommended for detention and treatment instead released by DYRS for outpatient care.

There's more, but why bother?

Added up, these "anecdotes" don't amount to much. At least not in the minds of D.C. legislators and executives, and, of course, Vincent Schiraldi.


View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company