14-year-old suspect in D.C. shootings was arrested at 9 for assault

By Keith L. Alexander and Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 3, 2010; B01

The 14-year-old suspect who police said drove the minivan during Tuesday night's mass shooting in Southeast Washington was first arrested when he was 9 for simple assault, according to law enforcement officials and court records.

The teen, slightly built and wearing a hooded jacket and shoulder-length dreadlocks, stood in shackles before a D.C. Superior Court judge Wednesday charged as a juvenile with first-degree murder in one of the District's deadliest outbreaks of violence in years. The shootings left four people dead and five others wounded.

Also charged in the shooting were two District men, Orlando Carter, 20, and Nathaniel Simms, 26. Police were looking for a fourth suspect Friday.

The teen is no stranger to juvenile court. Since age 9, he's been charged with nine offenses, including multiple assault charges -- once on a police officer -- theft, riding in a stolen car and failure to appear in court. The teen also walked away from a medium-security residential facility twice -- most recently just days before his arrest Tuesday.

Reggie Sanders, a spokesman for the District's Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, said he could not comment on the agency's involvement with any juvenile because of confidentiality rules.

Although it is not unusual for juveniles accused of serious crimes in the District to be prosecuted as adults, that won't happen in this case, authorities said.

Under D.C. law, a juvenile younger than 15 cannot be treated as an adult in the courts, whatever the alleged offense.

If the teen is found culpable for murder, a family court judge cannot order confinement. A respondent can be placed on probation or committed to the custody of the DYRS. Under D.C. law, the department decides whether a juvenile offender should be held in a detention facility and for how long, a source of frustration for many judges.

The teen could be locked up until he turns 21. At that point, the family court and the DYRS would lose jurisdiction, and he would go free.

In 2007, two years after completing probation after his first simple assault charge, to which he pleaded guilty, the boy was arrested for trying to steal a music player from someone at his school. He was charged with robbery, simple assault and assault on a police officer. He was placed on probation, which he completed.

The teen was first committed to the DYRS for theft and receiving stolen property in June 2009. He was sent to New Beginnings, the District's long-term juvenile detention center in Anne Arundel County, for 30 days. After being discharged from New Beginnings, the teen was released to his grandmother in July while being monitored and counseled by youth services workers.

In October, the teen was charged with simple assault after another school fight. He was placed on unsupervised probation by a D.C. Superior Court juvenile judge because, according to court records, he was already being monitored by the DYRS, which sent him back to New Beginnings for 30 days. The DYRS then sent him back to his grandmother and resumed its monitoring and counseling of the teen.

He was arrested in January in connection with a stolen vehicle. He spent five weeks in custody, first at the Youth Services Center on Mount Olivet Road NE and then at New Beginnings.

District juvenile officials decided not to send the youth back to his grandmother after his discharge from New Beginnings in February. Instead, he was placed in a residential treatment center where he attended classes and received counseling.

While at the medium-security facility, which is less secure than a detention center such as New Beginnings, the teen walked away twice. The first time, he returned three days after his disappearance. He walked away again March 22 and wasn't apprehended until his arrest Tuesday.

Juveniles under DYRS supervision periodically abscond, although the rate has declined in recent years. The DYRS has a team that tries to locate such youths, who sometimes return on their own.

No family members, including the teen's grandmother, were present at the hearing Wednesday. A court official said she had called the teen's grandmother and left a message on her home and cell phones, but the grandmother had not returned the calls.

The hearing, the teen's initial court appearance in connection with the fatal shootings, was closed to the public. Some of the details of his record were revealed at the hearing. A Washington Post reporter was allowed to attend the hearing on the condition that the teen's name not be published.

Judge Elizabeth C. Wingo said it was "abundantly clear" that the teen was a risk and ordered him held at Mount Olivet Road detention center until his next hearing, April 7.

Staff writer Paul Duggan contributed to this report.

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