A D.C. Superior Court grand jury will investigate a D.C. police inspector who arranged to have one of his civilian employes released into his custody after the employe had been arrested and charged with first-degree burglary, U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova said yesterday.
DiGenova said his office is investigating the "highly irregular" incident in which Inspector Sammie Morrison, head of the police department's Office of Financial Management, asked Superior Court Judge Sylvia Bacon to release the employe into his custody without consulting the U.S. attorney's office, as is routine. The incident occurred on a Sunday and Bacon was the emergency judge on-call.
"The circumstances surrounding this approach to a judge at the Superior Court are highly irregular, indeed unheard of, and the matter will be looked into immediately and fully," diGenova said.
According to a police report, the employe, Otto M. Autry, was arrested about 2:30 p.m. Jan. 26 inside a house at 1923 Bunker Hill Rd. NE. The arrest was made after a man broke down the front door of the house, "ransacked" four rooms and "removed an undetermined amount of money," the report states.
Crystal Harvey, the owner of the house who said she is a former girlfriend of Autry, said that her 17-year-old sister was hiding in the basement during the incident. Harvey said her sister eventually was able to run outside screaming, and neighbors called the police.
The report states that $515 in cash was taken from Autry at the time of his arrest. He was taken to the 5th District police station in handcuffs, where he was placed on the arrest book and charged with first-degree burglary with intent to destroy property.
Morrison told a reporter that he went to the 5th District while Autry was in custody and called Judge Bacon at home and asked that Autry be released into his custody.
According to law enforcement officials, a number of assistant U.S. attorneys are on call on weekends, and their names and telephone numbers are available to police.
Officials said that usually a prosecutor would be consulted about the terms of a third-party release.
Morrison has been the subject of two other investigations, one involving allegations of misuse of a $300,000 police department fund controlled by his office that is used for undercover police activities.
The police department Internal Affairs Division investigated those allegations and turned their findings over to the U.S. attorney's office.
A source familiar with the investigation said yesterday that the matter has not yet been resolved.
In an unrelated incident, in November 1984, Morrison received an official reprimand from Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. for using a police department boat for recreation. Morrison was off duty at the time and had an accident while driving the boat.
In the most recent investigation, diGenova said his office also was not consulted about subsequent changes affecting Autry's release.
Bacon first ordered Autry to appear for a Superior Court hearing on Jan. 28. However, the day after his arrest and release, Bacon postponed the hearing until Feb. 11 after Autry entered a substance abuse program at Providence Hospital, the documents show.
Law enforcement officials said that the U.S. attorney's office was unaware of the change because they still did not know about the first order.
When Autry did not appear for his originally scheduled hearing on Jan. 28, according to court documents, the hearing commissioner issued a bench warrant for his arrest and set bond at $2,000. That order was subsequently quashed when it was discovered that Bacon's second order superseded it.
"The circumstances indicate that at no time was this office ever contacted by the Metropolitan Police Department before, during or subsequent to any contact to the judge from whom the third-party custody was sought," diGenova said.
Judge Bacon said that she could not recall whether any mention was made of notifying the U.S. attorney's office in her conversations with Morrison about releasing Autry.
An emergency judge "has to make a decision on whether it is a matter that warrants doing nothing, such as leaving the person in custody, convening a hearing or making some sort of temporary decision," she said. She noted that the U.S. attorney's office was supposed to receive a copy of her two orders, which also prohibited Autry from having any contact with Harvey.
Deputy Police Chief Addison L. Davis, commander of the 5th District, said yesterday that officers in his district had conducted an investigation into the incident and he was "satisfied that on the scene people from the 5th District had acted appropriately."
However, he said, "I felt that I should have been notified that someone was here from another unit inquiring about his employe."
Harvey, meanwhile, told a reporter that two days after Autry was arrested, another civilian member of the police department went to her house and offered her a $500 personal check from Autry if she would agree to drop charges against him. Harvey said she was told the check was for restitution and damages done to her home during the incident.
"They want me to let go, but I have to do it press charges ," Harvey said, reporting that she has paid more than $1,900 for repairs to her house.
Both Autry, the police department's chief payroll clerk, and the other civilian employe, Paul C. Jones, work for Morrison in the financial management office. They could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Morrison said in an interview last week that Jones did not tell him that he was going to offer money to Harvey.
Morrison declined to comment yesterday on the planned grand jury investigation.