Clad in clerical collar and standing before a bulldozer in a fetid landfill, a Catholic priest seeking a sentence reduction for two hospitalized Lorton Reformatory inmates did his best to get arrested and gain publicity for his cause yesterday. However, police declined to take him into custody.
Father Eugene Brake, 50, who said he has been arrested four times in various antimilitary protests at the Pentagon, stopped a bulldozer in its tracks and delayed half a dozen garbage trucks operating at a landfill adjacent to the prison complex.
Brake chose the landfill for his demonstration because authorities say the 300-acre site was the apparent source of methane gas that seeped into a prison dormitory complex through sewer lines and telephone cables on Dec. 6. The gas triggered an explosion that injured inmates Anthony Johnson, 25, and Arthur Moody, 26.
Johnson, who has second- and third-degree burns over 86 percent of his body, is listed in critical condition in the intensive care unit of Washington Hospital Center. Moody, with first- and second-degree burns over 30 percent of his body, including his face, hands and back, is listed in fair condition.
"They have suffered enough," Brake declared as he stood in front of an idle bulldozer. Brake, of Northeast Washington, said he wants the sentence of each to be commuted to time already served. "Their punishment is going to be for life," he said. "They look like victims of nuclear fallout."
Johnson had been serving a six-year prison term for burglary and car theft and Moody a six-year sentence for grand larceny and car theft.
Officials of the D.C. Department of Corrections, which operates the prison in Fairfax County, said they had received no direct information about Brake's request, and so could not comment on it. They said the two inmates' sentences could be commuted only by President Reagan, on the recommendation of the Justice Department.
Brake, with a fine sense of drama, made ringing declarations as he stood amid heaps of trash at the landfill.
"I'll spend the rest of my life in jail if that's what it takes," he said. "The least that a decent, humane, compassionate society can do is say your suffering is over, you're free, enough is enough."
Brake also said the landfill's proximity to the prison "symbolizes garbage with the garbage" and its foul odor is torture to the inmates.
"This is criminal, beyond all bounds of justice, fairness and decency," he said in a prepared statement.
Fairfax police summoned by landfill officials stood observing the scene for more than hour, but did not arrest Brake as he said he hoped they would. They questioned him breifly on his purpose and identity.
Title to the landfill is held by the federal government, although it is managed principally by Fairfax County. The county police said they had no official jurisdiction over the landfill, but would step in if events warranted.
Brake said he wants the reprieves granted "immediately", and vowed to return to the landfill today if no action is taken. "This is the only way I can get attention for what I'm seeking," he said.