Two members of a Washington based communal group known as the Finders, arrested last month on child abuse charges in Florida, were released from jail yesterday after the charges were dismissed.
Douglas Edward Ammerman, 27, and James Michael Holwell, 23, were released after a Leon County Circuit Court hearing. A move for dismissal of the charges on the grounds of insufficient evidence had been filed by their counsel, authorities said.
Ammerman and Holwell were arrested Feb. 4 in Tallahassee after police there received an anonymous telephone call reporting that two "well-dressed men" were "supervising" six disheveled and hungry children in a local park, Tallahassee police said at the time.
Each man was charged with one count of misdemeanor child abuse, and the children, ages 2 to 7, whose mothers were members of the Finders, were examined for signs of abuse and remanded to the custody of the state of Florida. Holwell was also charged with resisting arrest without violence.
The investigation involved D.C. police, who raided a Northeast warehouse owned by the Finders, as well as Virginia and federal authorities. Initially, there were widespread reports of possible involvement by group members in child pornography and satanic rituals. Authorities later said that these reports were unfounded and were attributable in part to confusion over the group members' unusual life style. Members said recently the Finders are disbanding.
Michael Minerva, the assistant public defender who represented Ammerman and Holwell, said he made the motion to dismiss the case "on the grounds that there was not sufficient evidence" to try it. Judge George Reynolds agreed.
Minerva said Ammerman and Holwell, who most recently had been held on a total of $10,000 bond, were taken back to the Leon County Jail after the hearing and released. He said he was unaware of their plans, and Ammerman and Holwell could not be reached for comment.
Tallahassee police Lt. Roy Dickey said the arrests were justified according to the information police had at the time. He said a followup investigation indicated that "the facts of the case were not as they seemed."
C.L. Fordham, the chief assistant prosecutor for the county, said Minerva presented a summary of the facts, based on depositions and reports made by the arresting and investigating police officers, that was not challenged by the prosecution.
For example, Fordham noted the charge against Holwell of resisting arrest. He said police testimony indicated that Holwell "just seemed to have fainted" at the time of the arrest and that there was no way of telling if Holwell had faked the fainting spell.
Because Holwell showed "no active resistance," the prosecution could not press the charge, Fordham said.
Last week Leon County Circuit Court Judge Victor Cawthon awarded custody of three of the youngest children to the mothers. Two of the other children were declared dependent but were allowed to remain with their mothers in Tallahassee, and another child, whose mother was not present for the custody hearing, remains in foster care.