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Southeast shooting shows D.C. youths are still free to kill and die

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, April 3, 2010; A11

There's something about this week's drive-by shooting that left four victims dead and five others wounded on South Capitol Street that D.C. authorities don't want you to know: One of the homicide victims, and two of those arrested in connection with that violence and an earlier shooting, were under the commitment of the city's Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

The Post reported on Thursday that the 14-year-old youth charged with first-degree murder in Tuesday's mass shooting was under DYRS commitment and had run away before his arrest. He had nine prior convictions and had been in DYRS custody six times.

What's more, one of the four homicide victims in Tuesday's shooting, an 18-year-old man, was also under commitment to DYRS.

Orlando Carter, 20, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in Tuesday's shooting. His brother, Sanquan Carter, 19, was also under DYRS commitment at the time of his March 22 arrest for the alleged murder of Jordan Howe, 20. Howe's death and Tuesday's drive-by reportedly are connected.

What's meant by DYRS commitment?

D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Lee Satterfield, in an e-mail message to Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners this week, explained: "DC law does not provide the Court with any authority over youth committed to the custody of the city. Family Court judges who find a juvenile 'involved' in a crime (the DC Code's nomenclature for guilt) have but two options: put the youth on probation, which the court's juvenile probation officers monitor and over which the judges have control, or, if the judge thinks probation is not sufficient, the judge can commit the youth to the city at which point the court loses all authority over the youth including the authority to securely detain a youth."

Continuing: "Usually when judges commit youth to the city, we do so because we believe that probation is not sufficient and that the youth needs secure detention or long term residential placement at a treatment facility. In other words, we believe that the charges are serious enough to warrant removing the youth from the community either for the safety of the community or the safety of the youth. We just do not have the authority to accomplish this goal."

Therefore, it mattered not that judges determined in the cases of Sanquan Carter, and the 18- and the 14-year-old youths, that each was a safety risk and should be removed from the community. DYRS chose to put them in community placements (for example, one in a group home and another with his family).

A reader recently sent me a copy of an e-mail he circulated accusing me of being a "Johnny one note" for repeatedly writing about DYRS decisions that endanger youths and the community. The Post, he suggested, should find a better use of this valuable space.

Perhaps so. Till it does, I type on.

On March 4 a young man was arrested and charged with putting two bullets into the back of 18-year-old Calvin Woodland in January. That man, under DYRS commitment at the time, is also a veteran of the

system.

A source with access to official records said the suspect's first contact with D.C. police occurred at age 14. By the time he was 18, he had been arrested nine times on multiple charges, including four separate weapons charges. On his fourth arrest, he was committed to DYRS until age 21. After only 11 months of secure confinement, he was released. He was arrested and convicted again, spent 10 months locked up, and again was released by DYRS.

Rest in peace, Calvin Woodland.

More?

In February, Daquan Johnson, 19, and a 16-year-old youth were arrested and charged with the February murder of Carlos B. Alexander, 47. At the time of the alleged homicide, Johnson, though committed to DYRS, was living at home. The 16-year-old, also committed to DYRS, was not in secure confinement but living in a D.C. group home. This is not juvenile justice reform; this is madness.

Judge Satterfield, responding to the familiar complaint that juvenile offenders have nothing to fear from the courts, said in his e-mail that youths don't worry because they know "that if they are adjudicated guilty by a judge, the judge has no authority to securely detain them under DC law."

How much longer will this perversion of justice and public safety -- done in the name of enlightenment -- be tolerated? Mayor Adrian Fenty, Attorney General Peter Nickles, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray and council members have the power to end this travesty.

What say you, D.C. voters?

kingc@washpost.com

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