D.C. Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson said yesterday that he has ordered a wide-ranging search for an unidentified 8-year-old Washington youth whose heroin addiction and life-style were described in a newspaper article Sunday.
Richard Brooks, deputy general counsel to the police department, said last night that if the address of the child, identified in the article only as Jimmy, was not known by 10 a.m. today, he would seek a subpoena for the Washington Post reporter who wrote the article and for "senior editors that might know the information."
Lawyers for The Post, citing First Amendment provisions of the U.S. Constitution, have refused to disclose the information.
"Time is of the essence right now," Brooks said. "We need to know where the kid is. So, as of 10 a.m. tomorrow [Tuesday], no later, we are going to the U.S. Attorney to ask for subpoenas. . . "
Jefferson said that he had been in contact with Charles F.C. Ruff, the U.S. Attorney here, and with Mayor Marion Barry, both of whom he said fully support his intention to pursue "every legal step we can" against The Post.
"We have a determined effort to not only identify the youngster, but we also plan to proceed against the parents," Jefferson said. According to Barry's press secretary, Alan Grip, the chief launched the search for the youth after the mayor telephoned him yesterday morning and told him "he wanted this case closed."
The Washington Post's attorney, John B. Kuhns of Williams and Connolly, said, "Under the First Amendment, the press has the right and duty to seek out and report information of vital concern to the public. This story could never have been written if the reporter had not agreed to maintain the confidentiality of her news source. If reporters did not honor their commitments, news coverage of this type would be effectively eliminated."
The story, by Washington Post Staff Writer Janet Cooke, told of a Southeast Washington youth who began sniffing herion at age 5, became addicted within six months and now receives daily injections of heroin, often from his mother's live-in lover. The mother also is a herion addict, and the man who lives with her sells herion in their home, which also is used by other addicts to "shoot up."
The mother quoted in the story as saying she accepts the child's drug use, and the child said he goes to school only to learn mathematics, which, he said, would help him become a better drug dealer. "There don't BE no jobs," the child said. The story described a scene in which heroin was injected into the child's arm.
Publication of the story comes at a time when law enforcement officials contend herion use is at virtual epidemic levels in the District of Columbia, and the news article sparked hundreds of calls of outrage and concern to the newspaper, the mayor, City Council members and social services and community agencies.
Police officials yesterday described the search for the youth as comprehensive, but not a massive manhunt like the one launched earlier this year for alleged drug dealer and accused police killer Bruce Wazon Griffith, or for the man accused last week of killing a WMAL radio advetising saleswoman.
Assistant Police Chief Maurice Turner said officers from the youth division and from the 5th, 6th, and 7th Districts -- which include most of Northeast and Southeast Washington -- were contacting informants and school principals who might know the youth's identity.
Police officials and representatives of the mayor's office contacted The Post several times yesterday in an effort to obtain the youth's identity or location.
Mayor Barry told a reporter yesterday, "We're going to try to find that 8-year-old heroin addict . . . An 8-year-old boy on heroin and his mother says it's okay. Isn't that incredible? I couldn't believe it. We're going to try to help the boy if we can find him."
Audrey Rowe Acting Commissioner for Social Services, said she was outraged because no one had reported the incident, even though the city has a child abuse hotline on which anonymity is guaranteed.
Carolyn Bowden, supervisor of the Department of Human Services, said that since 9 a.m. yesterday, her workers had made hundreds of telephone calls and received hundreds more, most from persons expressing "shock and terror."
DHS personnel were scouring neighborhoods of Southeast Washington, but "so far, we've had no success," Bowden said. "If we don't hear anything by this evening, we're going to appeal to radio stations to broadcast an appeal for anyone with information to call us 24-hours-a-day, or call the police."
"I believe the child's life is in danger, I really do," Bowden said. "Bear in mind, he's only 8 years old. He's said to be small. If the drugs aren't given in the correct dosage, I'd say he's in real danger. This newspaper article could be the child's epitaph."
City Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) said she was incensed by the article and has written a letter to The Washington Post editorial page with copies to several editors.
"To me," Rolark said, "that's negative journalism at its worst. Just to stand idly by and watch a child get injected, and just write a story which does nothing -- that appalls me. This further demeans the black family, the black children."
Council Member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) said she was researching the child abuse legislation to determine whether anyone with knowledge of child abuse -- including a reporter -- was liable to criminal prosecution for not reporting it to authorities.
City Council Member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) said that the article raised important questions about the child's teachers and why they had not reported his excessive absence from class or his drug-induced behavior in school.
However, School Superintendent Vincent E. Reed said it had not been established whether or not a teacher had reported the case. "We're trying to find out through the school system who the child is," Reed said. "It [the article] was as alarming to me as to anyone else. It was shocking."
Chief Jefferson said he has "a strong feeling" about youngsters involved with narcotics. "Any time you find a kid that age being injected with drugs, to me that's the same as attempted murder," he said, his voice rising.
The child should be taken into custody, Jefferson said, "the mother put in jail and that so-called step-father of his put under the jail . . . That's the way I feel about an 8-year-old kid who can't protect himself . . . Once you stick a needle in your arm, that person is lost."
Ralph (Petey) Greene, host of the "Rap with Petey Greene" radio talk show, devote about 20 minutes of his Sunday program to the plight of the youth. "What's really shocking," Greene said yesterday, "is that this is not an unusual case. At one time, a little kid like that couldn't even get reefer [marijuana]. Now, all you have to do is go to any rock show in town and look at all the 9, 10 and 11-year-olds dropping all kinds of stuff."