Four days passed before an arrest warrant was issued for a prisoner who had escaped May 16 from the D.C. Jail because of a dispute between the U.S. Marshals Service and the city's Department of Corrections over who had custody of the man when he fled.
The escaped prisoner, Steven Curtis Murray, was accused of various offenses, including armed robbery and aiming a gun at two police officers. The fact that no warrant was issued until May 20 meant that for those four days Murray's name was not in the nationwide law enforcement computer system.
During that period, police outside the Washington area who might have encountered Murray would have had no way of knowing he was a fugitive. Murray, 28, remained at large yesterday.
No warrant was issued for Murray's arrest because neither the Marshals Service nor the Corrections Department requested one.
Murray escaped while being returned to the D.C. Jail by deputy U.S. marshals after an appearance in court on armed robbery and police assault charges.
The Marshals Service has taken the position that since Murray escaped from the jail grounds, he was in the custody of the Corrections Department at the time. The Corrections Department has taken the position that deputy U.S. marshals, who are responsible for moving inmates to and from court appearances, had not turned Murray over to jail authorities when he fled.
U.S. Marshal Herbert M. Rutherford III said yesterday that the Corrections Department had entered a lookout warning into the local police computer system on the night of Murray's escape identifying him to police officers in the Washington area as an escapee. This type of warning does not, however, alert police jurisdictions outside the area.
Rutherford said the Marshals Service did not request a warrant because officials assumed the Corrections Department would take that action.
"This individual escaped over the wall from D.C. Jail," said Rutherford. "Our position is . . . he escaped from the custody of the Department of the Corrections . . . . My feeling is that they did not issue a warrant for fear that people would believe Murray escaped from them."
Corrections spokesman Leroy Anderson said yesterday that Murray "did not escape from the jail," adding that "if he had, we would have requested a warrant for him." Anderson said that since Murray had left the marshals' prisoner bus but had not yet reached the jail building, he was still in the custody of the Marshals Service.
According to sources familiar with the case, the arresting police officer, Detective Thomas Kaschak, and Superior Court Hearing Commissioner Andrea L. Hartnett independently became concerned May 20 when they discovered that Murray's escape had not been entered into the national crime computer.
After being unable to resolve who was responsible for requesting the warrant, sources said, Kaschak and Hartnett approached the U.S. attorney's office for help.
Eventually on May 20, the detective obtained the warrant for prison breach. According to sources, the police department almost never becomes involved in obtaining arrest warrants for jail escapees.
Later on May 20, the Marshals Service obtained a separate federal warrant for Murray's arrest.
Other sources said the delay disturbed a number of police officers because of the nature of Murray's alleged offenses. He allegedly pointed at two officers a gun that was later found to contain one round of ammunition.
"Here was a guy who pulled the trigger on two policeman and who had been out since Friday. He could have been stopped and nobody would have known he was an escapee," said one police source.
"It is absurd just to enter a lookout," said one police official, "people who escape from prisons go all over the country. You would think in this case everything would be done to catch him."
Rutherford said yesterday that the escape was being investigated.