U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova said yesterday his office and the D.C. police department will ask for changes in the bond-posting procedures that allowed two men arrested in connection with a $2 million drug seizure this week to be released from custody before a courtroom appearance.
The D.C. Superior Court panel of judges responsible for the procedures will be asked to increase the dollar amounts of the bonds and to eliminate the availability of bonds at police stations for certain types of serious drug offenses, diGenova said.
Representatives of his office met with D.C. police officials yesterday to discuss the bond-posting that led to the release of Larry Blackwell and Torrence D. Owens, who failed to appear Thursday at a U.S. District Court hearing less than 10 hours after each posted $5,000 "station house" bonds at D.C. police headquarters.
The bond schedule used to release the two men has not been changed since 1976.
"Everybody agrees there is a problem and it's going to be fixed," said diGenova. He said the request to the judicial panel will be made in a "day or two."
Law enforcement officials said yesterday that the release of the two men from police custody on Wednesday was not unusual. They said it is standard police practice to free those defendants who can post bond at the police station regardless of the charge, including first-degree murder.
DiGenova said Blackwell and Owens could have been held overnight if police officials had contacted one of the District judges on emergency duty or the U.S. attorney's office.
But other law enforcement officials said many police officers were under the impression that anyone who posts a station bond can be released.
For example, D.C. Superior Court Judge Fred B. Ugast, who oversees the felony trials, said yesterday he could remember being contacted by police only once during his 12 years as a judge to hold someone overnight after court had closed.
"I don't think there is anybody to point a finger at, nobody to blame," said diGenova. "These things occur. But we will make appropriate applications to the Superior Court to ensure that the bonds are changed or elminated for certain offenses."
D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert A. Shuker, chairman of the panel that oversees the bond schedules, said yesterday that many of the bond schedules on serious crime used at the District's police stations have not been raised in the last eight to nine years because no requests had been made by the U.S. attorney's office.
"It tends to be a reactive process," said Shuker.
Law enforcement officials said one of the major problems with the current schedule is that persons released are typically paying a bondsman only the standard 10 percent of a bond that has not been adjusted for inflation in nearly a decade. Owens and Blackwell paid bondsman Jesse L. Jones $500 of the $5,000 bond.
Or, if a person is charged with first-degree murder, for example, the "station house" bond is $100,000, which would mean a payment to a bondsman of $10,000.
Neither Blackwell nor Owens has been found, District police said yesterday.
"Those people who we are most concerned about might have the greatest incentive to secure their release before a complete background investigation could be completed," said Jay Carver, who heads the District's Pretrial Services Agency.
"These are the very people we should be worried about."
Carver said that only about 5 percent of all people arrested post a bond at the police station. Most people, he said, prefer to wait instead to make a court appearance where in many cases the person will be released without having to post a bond.