The family of a shopkeeper who was killed by a runaway from a city-funded group home for juveniles filed a lawsuit yesterday against the District government, the former chief of its Youth Services Administration and two private contractors.
The suit, which seeks $150 million in damages, argues that the District neglected to properly monitor the contractors and contributed to the death of Kenneth Barnes Jr. The 37-year-old businessman was killed during a robbery of his U Street NW clothing store on Sept. 24, 2001.
James D. Hill, then 18, was later convicted of murdering Barnes and two other men and sentenced to 105 years in prison. Hill had run away from four juvenile group homes in the months before the slaying.
The lawsuit, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court by Annette Gregory Barnes, the victim's widow, is the second filed recently by families of victims harmed by juvenile runaways. The family's attorney, Wayne R. Cohen, said the goal is to send city officials a message. "D.C. must answer for why it is incompetent -- incompetent -- at running this group home system," he said.
A spokesman for the Office of the Corporation Counsel said he could not discuss pending litigation.
Several clergy members and community activists who joined the Barnes family at a news conference yesterday expressed impatience with Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and the city's approach to juvenile crime.
"Violence is an everyday, prevalent, all-too-often-occurring situation in our environment," said the Rev. Donald L. Isaac, executive director of the East of the River Clergy-Police-Community Partnership Inc., which focuses on poor neighborhoods in Northeast and Southeast Washington.
The Rev. Anthony J. Motley said public officials have ignored the lack of services for youngsters who get in trouble. "There has been no public, official outcry," said Motley, founder of Redemption Ministry, based in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast.
Kenneth Barnes Sr., who formed a support group for families of violent-crime victims after his son's death, said he did not know about the record of his son's killer until he was contacted by The Washington Post this year for a series of articles on city-funded homes for foster children and juvenile delinquents.
"Along comes a revelation that shook me to my very soul," Barnes said at the news conference. "Young men and women were being put in juvenile homes and were left there unsupervised, able to come and go as they please. Somebody has got to say: Enough is enough."
In October 2000, Hill, then 17, was committed to the custody of Youth Services until age 21 for possessing an unregistered firearm. He had had previous arrests for stealing a car and selling cocaine, both of which resulted in probation.
From March to May 2001, Hill ran away from four group homes, records show. "The respondent kept absconding and/or running from the group homes where he was placed," his Youth Services social worker, Sidi N. Bojang, wrote on July 12, 2001. "It is the hope of this writer that the respondent will be revoked from his community status . . . when he is apprehended."
Two and a half months after Bojang wrote the note in the case file, Hill was arrested in Barnes's death. However, Youth Services continued to believe he was still at large. A caseworker, Louise P. Clemons, tried over several months in 2002 to call his family, and in February 2003, the agency issued an internal alert to find him.
In an interview this year from the U.S. Penitentiary in Allenwood, Pa., Hill said the group homes are "not fit for people to stay in" because of crowding, infestation by cockroaches and rodents, and lack of basics like water and soap.
"That's why some of us run all the time," Hill said. He added: "They don't have any activities for us to do."
Dytrad Management Services Inc. and Associates for Renewal in Education Inc., the contractors that run the four group homes from which Hill ran, are named in the suit. A man who answered the phone at Dytrad's Gateway III group home yesterday said the owners were not available. Thomas W. Gore, president of Associates for Renewal in Education, declined to comment.
Gayle L. Turner, who was ousted as chief of Youth Services in late July, was named as an individual defendant. She has since moved to Richmond and did not respond to a telephone message yesterday requesting an interview.