Short shooting suspect, with a record and a softer side, eludes Montgomery police

Henry Chavez appeared in court on drug charges in 2008.
Henry Chavez appeared in court on drug charges in 2008. (Courtesy Of Montgomery County Police)
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By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 5, 2010

It wasn't the kind of lookout that is broadcast over police radio every day for a suspect: "Hispanic midget."

Nine days later, Henry Chavez, officially listed at 3 feet 11 inches tall and 85 pounds, is still on the lam. Montgomery County authorities say he shot a man outside a Silver Spring residence, which occurred 2½ years after Chavez was caught selling crack cocaine and driving with a dagger in the center console of his red Thunderbird.

Over the years Chavez, 28, has shown a second side -- acts of compassion, right turns taken. He studied computer science, but quit college after three years to take care of his dying father.

"You're clearly very smart. You're clearly close to your family," Circuit Court Judge Marielsa A. Bernard told Chavez during the 2008 drug case. "I guess what I would really like you to answer is, having taken care of your father, how do you think your father would feel if he knew that you were here today?"

Chavez hesitated for 10 seconds before answering quietly.

"He wouldn't be really happy," he said.

Chavez's stature has come up in court before. His lawyer had argued against a long prison stay, saying he wouldn't be safe. Chavez told a judge he had been discriminated against because of his height, even by those impressed by his résumé.

"When I got to the interview, they changed their mind, and it hurt," he said.

Chavez was born in the District and grew up along Hobart Street in the Mt. Pleasant area.

In 2001, Chavez entered the University of the District of Columbia, studying computer engineering, according to court records. He left before earning a degree, took care of his father, and secured a part-time computer job with the District Government Employees Federal Credit Union, according to records.

By the fall of 2007, he had decided to augment his income through sales of marijuana and crack cocaine.

That led to his arrest. Montgomery patrol officer Heather Ives saw a red Thunderbird with a temporary license plate on which the expiration date was covered, according to an arrest affidavit.

She pulled the car over, approached the driver's side, and saw what appeared to be a plastic bag of marijuana between his legs, according to the affidavit. She asked Chavez to step out of the car, and another officer found $675 in his pockets.

Officers eventually found 99 small clear bags of marijuana and 77 clear bags of crack, court records show. Chavez admitted that he had sold 10 "nickel bags" of pot, according to the affidavit. Officers also found the dagger.

Chavez's lawyer, Louis Martucci in that case, said he has never represented anyone as short, but has represented plenty of people less likable. "A very nice fellow. Pleasant, mannerly. Somewhat serious," he said.

Martucci negotiated an agreement calling for his client to plead guilty to drug dealing, and argued in court that prison would not be the best place for him. "I don't know that he would be in a position to fend for himself," he said.

"I share some of Mr. Martucci's concerns," said the prosecutor in the case, Jeannine Little.

The judge, Bernard, sentenced Chavez to nine months incarceration but recommended a halfway house, where he spent most of his sentence. Bernard also offered Chavez hope, saying that if he behaved, she was open to the idea of possibly wiping out his conviction.

But on May 27, according to police accounts, that possibility became impossible.

Shortly before 8:30 p.m., Hamington Luis Ravanales Orozco, was outside a home in the 10100 block of Georgia Avenue with a group of people when he was shot. A call came into police that "a very small man or a dwarf" could be responsible, said Lucille Baur, a police spokeswoman.

That led police to quickly issue three different lookouts, Baur said: "Hispanic midget," "possible Hispanic dwarf," and "possible Hispanic adult midget."

Baur said that getting a description out among officers quickly was a priority. Later, when the department issued a press release, it stayed away from labels and simply described Chavez by his height and weight. There is a warrant charging Chavez with first-degree murder.

For years, a group called Little People of America has campaigned against use of the word "midget" because it conjures up images of circus performers. Gary Arnold, a group spokesman, said that of the slights he has heard, the police description in the aftermath of the shooting is hardly the worst.

"I'm not going to go out of my way to criticize police using the word in the heat of the moment," he said. "I'm glad that when they were able to step back, they didn't use the term."

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