The man being hunted for the slaying of a D.C. police officer Monday night was freed on personal bond in June because of a bureaucratic mistake, the director of the city's bail services agency said yesterday.
Bruce Wazon Griffith, who is wanted for the slaying of Officer Arthur P. Snyder, had been arrested by 3rd District police on a heroin possession charge on June 6, according to Bruce Beaudin, the director of the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency.
Because he was already on parole as the result of a previous robbery conviction, he could have been kept in jail until a hearing could be held to determine whether parole should be revoked.
But when Griffith appeared in court to be arraigned on the new charge, the police computer system that would have provided the information that Griffith was out on parole was turned off, Beaudin said. In addition the folder of information on Griffith'sprior record compiled by the agency the night before was not delivered to the courthouse.
As a result, Beaudin said, the bail agency staff member on duty in court that day had no record of Griffith and recommended that he be released on his personal recognizance, on the condition that he regularly report to the Pretrail Services Agency and agree to narcotics testing.
Judge Joseph M. F. Ryan, who had no information before him about Griffith's background, agreed to his release, Beaudin said. Griffith failed to return to court on July 9 for his trail and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.
"We went in with a bad recommendation," Beaudin said in a telephone interview late yesterday. "I hate to admit it . . . but that's where it is," Beaudin said.
"The fact that the computer was down was the key fact," Beaudin said. The daily transfer of agency folders from a nearby office to the courthouse is "really a backup system," Beaudin said.
But, Beaudin said, "Whether the [computer] system was up or not, that folder should have been" delivered to the court in time for Griffith's appearance.
Judge Ryan said last night that he did not remember Griffith's appearing in arraignment court, where 40 to 50 cases are handled each day. Ryan said, however, that he "certainly wouldn't have put [Griffith] on personal recognizance" if he had known about the defendant's background.
The judge said he probably would have agreed to a request from the prosecution that Griffith be held in jail pending a parole revocation hearing, if Griffith's record had been available. Ryan said the least he would have done was order that Griffith be required to post a money bond or be released to one of several private groups in the city who supervise defendants prior to trail.
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and court records, Griffith was sentenced in July 1974 to serve 18 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to a bank robbery charge in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
Four years later, he was transferred from the federal correctional institution at Lewisburg, Pa., to a halfway house in Washington. He was released on parole in October 1978.
Beaudin said yesterday that when the agency staff member checked computer records the night Griffith was arrested on the herion charge, she found information about the robbery and a 1992 parole date and recommended against his immediate release.
Later, after he failed to appear for trail, Griffith was put on the District's 10 Most Wanted list.
He is also being sought by law enforcement authorities in northern New Jersey on another charge of possession of narcotics.
City police intensified their search for Griffith yesterday, conducting what authorities described as the most extensive manhunt here in decades. They leaned on prostitutes and drug dealers, bought information, searched suspected hideouts with K9 dogs and, in one case Tuesday night, arrested and allegedly roughed up a man they mistakenly identified as Griffith.
Wearing black mourning tape over their badges, the embittered police officers patrolled the streets in squad cars, on scooters and on foot, looking for their suspect.
Acting on tips and hunches, police surrounded a number of city residences and buildings, guns trained and sharpshooters positioned. But Griffith kept one step ahead in his flight; on several occasions, police said, residents told them that they had missed him by minutes.
In the 14th and U streets NW area, where Snyder was gunned down between U and V streets NW police arrested three men within 45 minutes yesterday on narcotics violations.
Police officials said that the total number of arrests in the city yesterday was not above the 80-a-day average, but homicide Lt. Kenneth A. Winters said yesterday that "the guys are upset. They're not going out and manufacturing any laws or violations, but they aren't overlooking anything either.
"We're going to keep the pressure up until we find him," Winters said. "We've got out a nationwide teletype and we've even gotten calls from as far away as the Los Angeles Police Department wanting to know more information. If he runs, we'll find him. The adrenaline is going when a policeman is shot. It's not hard to get cooperation."
On Tuesday night, a 29-year-old Northeast resident said, he was arrested and beaten by 5th District police officers who mistook him for Griffith as he sat talking to a friend in a van parked at the Brentwood Village Shopping Center at 13th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE.
Aaron Woolfolk said he had walked to a grocery store in the market to buy some food, met a friend, and then was sitting in the friend's van at about 6:30 p.m. when two police officers approached and started harassing him.
"They came to the van and put a flashlight in my eyes. They said to get out of the van," Woolfolk said. "I made no movement whatsoever. I simply asked, "Why are you shining that light in my eyes?'"
Woolfolk said the officers then pulled him out of the van, took him behind the van, handcuffed him and hit him in the face with a flashlight, stepped on him and beat him up.
Later, he said, he was taken to the 5th District police station and, when the officers learned they had mistakenly identified him, they charged him with disorderly conduct and released him after his sister and brother-in-law paid a $10 fine.
Woolfolk, an employe of the Government Printing Office, said he has bruises on his neck, a split nose, swollen lip and a badly bruised and cut hand.
Attempts to get a police comment on the incident were unsuccessfully yesterday. One 5th District official said that no one in the station later yesterday knew any details of the incident. Woolfolk's name and the disorderly charge were registered in the arrest book, however.
Beaudin said the bureaucratic error in Griffith's case was discovered by accident earlier this week during a training session for new employes. Beaudin said a supervisor, who had seen Griffith's name in the newspaper, decided to run it through the computer to show the trainees how to get information to put into the files.
However, when the supervisor then pulled the Griffith file, Beaudin said, she discovered the computer information was not included. That file, Beaudin said last night, was the one that went to the courtroom.
Later, Beaudin said, the supervisor found another file, lying on a desk in the basement of the Superior Court, which included the information on Griffith's background.
Beaudin said he plans to investigate the entire matter this morning.