A man who was wounded during a running gun fight with police in Hyattsville Tuesday night and was later charged with assault with intent to murder walked out of a District hospital early yesterday. No police guards were watching him.
Although District police have acknowledged that they had been asked to guard the patient, a lack of communication among the hospital, D.C. and Prince George's police led to the lack of security and the suspect's disappearance.
Prince George's County police said yesterday that Rickie A. Howard, 21, a Miami man who had been living at 717 Chillum Rd. in Hyattsville, was discovered missing about 1 a.m. from a ward at the Washington Hospital Center by a nurse making routine rounds. Hospital staff members then called District police to make a missing persons report and, at that time, discovered that the man was wanted in Prince George's, explained Donna Arbogast, a spokeswoman for the Washington Hospital Center. County police said Howard was shot in the lower back about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night after he allegedly fired at two undercover narcotics detectives as they approached a car in a parking lot in the 6800 block of Riggs Road.
Arbogast said that when Howard arrived at the hospital's Medstar unit via a Prince George's fire department ambulance, "no one told anyone here that there was anything wrong with Mr. Howard in regard to a police matter."
However, Prince George's police spokesman Bruce Gentile said yesterday that "there was a uniformed officer in the ambulance with him." A short time later, other police detectives arrived at the hospital and notified District police that Howard was at the hospital and that Prince George's had charged him with two counts of assault with intent to murder. For two days, Prince George's police had told reporters that Howard was at the Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park.
The Washington Hospital Center spokeswoman said that "our security department was not aware" of the situation.
Gentile said that since Prince George's authorities do not have police powers in the District, they had expected District police to guard Howard.
Last evening, District police issued a statement saying that Prince George's police did notify them about Howard and "requested that a guard detail be established at the hospital." However, the statement said, D.C. police decided that, since Howard was in critical condition, a guard "would not be necessary at that time." That decision was "inadvertently not brought to the attention of the Prince George's authorities," the statement said.
Meanwhile, a few hours after his arrival, doctors reclassified Howard's condition as fair and he was put on in a regular hospital ward.