D.C. Budget Battle

Needle Exchange Programs at Issue

A House-Senate conference committee will try this week to work out differences in the two versions of the District's $4.7 billion budget.

The House voted last week to prohibit the city from legalizing marijuana for medical purposes or providing clean needles to drug addicts. The Senate version of the budget bill, passed earlier in July, does not contain the bans on a medical-marijuana law or needle exchanges, which supporters say could greatly reduce the spread of HIV.

GOP opponents said that the needle exchange programs encourage drug use. President Clinton has threatened to veto the budget bill if the needle exchange ban is not removed.

Although the House banned the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, it voted to allow the District to release the results of a 1998 voter initiative on the issue. Last year, Congress prohibited the city from counting the votes.

By a two-vote margin, the House rejected a proposed ban on adoption by unmarried couples, which critics said was aimed at homosexuals.

Complaint Panel Concerns

Pr. George's Report Not Published

Each year, the Prince George's County Citizen Complaint Oversight Panel is supposed to issue a public report on allegations of police misconduct and brutality and recommend changes.

But it has been more than three years since the board's last report.

Panel members say they regret not publishing a report for the last three years and hope to complete one in the next few months. The panel's chairman, Valerie J. Kaplan, blamed computer problems and transition adjustments when five new members joined the board in 1996. "We have been working very hard to get this report into shape and to get it printed," she said.

Others wonder whether the seven-member panel, appointed by County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D), is effective. "How can we as citizens have any faith in them?" asked Eugene Grant, a Seat Pleasant resident who sits on another police department advisory board. "Are they covering up something?"

Meanwhile, the District is restoring its citizen complaint review board. The last review board, abolished in 1995, was swamped with a backlog of as many as 1,000 cases. The D.C. Council abolished the board and used the savings to fund extra police patrols.

In March, a District law created a new five-member board to provide residents with a formal mechanism to investigate claims of police misconduct. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) is expected to name his four choices for the panel within two weeks. The fifth board member will be named by D.C. police.

Across the Region

Tripp Indictment; Lorton Plans

* Linda R. Tripp was indicted in Maryland on illegal wiretapping charges, becoming the only central figure in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal to be criminally charged. Tripp, 49, who lives in Columbia, was indicted on two counts of violating a rarely used Maryland law that makes it a crime to record phone conversations without the consent of all parties. Tripp's secret tapes of her conversations with Monica S. Lewinsky led to President Clinton's impeachment.

Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon (R) said prosecution was essential when there was an alleged violation of Maryland law in such a high-profile incident. "Prosecutors then can't turn away from that heightened sense of information," she said.

But Stephen M. Kohn, one of Tripp's attorneys, said the indictment "would have a chilling effect on witnesses who have the courage to document and report official misconduct."

Each of the wiretapping violations carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of $10,000 or both.

* Twelve years ago, the death of 5-month-old Garrett Michael Wilson was blamed on sudden infant death syndrome. This week, a Montgomery County jury convicted the baby's father, Garrett Eldred Wilson, of murder.

Wilson, 43, was accused of smothering his son and an infant daughter six years earlier to collect $190,000 in life insurance. He faces a September trial in Prince George's County on a first-degree murder charge in the 1981 death of his 2-month-old daughter, Brandi Jean Wilson. Montgomery prosecutors have asked Circuit Court Judge Ann S. Harrington to sentence Wilson, of Frostburg, Md., to life in prison without parole.

* Fairfax County supervisors took their first step last week toward turning Lorton Correctional Complex into a 2,500-acre park and a residential neighborhood. In a 9 to 1 vote, supervisors created a new area of the county, to be called Laurel Hill. In a land deal with the U.S. government, Fairfax would turn most of the land into a wildlife sanctuary and allow as many as 1,500 homes to be built on the rest. The federally owned prison is set to close in 2001.

* Call it a big yard sale--of money. The District offered $900 million in bonds in the largest sale of financial notes in its history. The money will allow the city to restructure $660 million in old debt and receive $240 million in new money to help finance tax cuts, school renovations and other initiatives.

* John W. Hinckley Jr., who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1981 shootings of President Ronald Reagan and three others, soon will leave the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital in the District on supervised outings. But the public won't be told about his day trips, government officials said. They said there were concerns about his privacy and safety. The hospital staff views the day trips as part of Hinckley's treatment plan, a D.C. Corporation Counsel spokesman said.

Beltway Chase Turns Deadly

Diplomat's Son Shot in Exchange With Fairfax Police

A man who led police on a wild 10-mile chase on the Capital Beltway was struck by two bullets, one in the shoulder and another through the head. Authorities are investigating whether Merachew Lucas Fitigu, the 24-year-old son of an Ethiopian diplomat, was killed by police or by himself after an exchange of gunfire with Fairfax County police.

Fitigu died Tuesday after a chase that ended with his car in flames after it crashed into a guardrail north of the Temple Hill Road overpass on the Beltway's outer loop. Fairfax police said they began pursuing Fitigu when he passed through a radar speed trap in the Kingstowne area. Police said Fitigu fired at police, piercing the car of Fairfax patrol officer Jeffrey K. Rockenbaugh. The officer approached Fitigu's car after it crashed and shot him in the upper body, police said in a statement. They refused to say how many shots were fired or what led him to pull the trigger.

Drought Takes Its Toll on Region

Md. Residents Asked to Conserve Water; Aid Sought for Struggling Farmers

All Maryland residents are being asked to make sacrifices to deal with the worst drought in 30 years.

As early as this week, residents may be limited to watering their lawns once a week and prohibited from washing their cars, in restrictions being considered by a special state task force. The group also is considering recommending that restaurants stop serving water to patrons unless they ask for it and mandating inspections of plumbing in public buildings to halt leaks.

The task force will report to Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) on Tuesday with recommendations.

With rainfall as much as 50 percent below normal, Glendening declared a statewide emergency last week and pleaded with residents to take shorter showers, not wash their cars and refrain from watering lawns.

Glendening is seeking federal aid for farmers whose crops have been devastated by the drought and is spending $3 million in state aid. The drought has shriveled crops, lowered rivers to record levels and made lawns rock-like; several communities have enacted mandatory restrictions.

Virginia also is suffering. Loudoun recently became the first county in the Washington region to impose mandatory restrictions on water use. Fifteen Virginia counties have sought assistance in getting federal disaster aid for farmers from the office of Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III.

CAPTION: Withering Dry Spell (This chart was not available)