Three days after a homicide suspect walked out of D.C. Superior Court by switching identification bracelets with another detainee, court officials revamped security Monday to allow officials to see a photograph of the person who is supposed to be in court.
In the C-10 courtroom where suspects make their initial appearances, a pretrial services employee can now see colorized police mug shots on a computer screen to ensure the defendant in the courtroom is the right person.
On Friday, while in a jail cell with other defendants, James Brewer, 24, who was charged with first-degree felony murder, allegedly switched his identification bracelet with Bradley J. Allen, who had been charged with a misdemeanor drug offense.
An official familiar with the escape investigation said Brewer and Allen knew each other before their arrests. Believing Allen would be released immediately after his hearing, Brewer convinced him to switch wristbands. When the judge ordered Allen released from court, it was actuallly Brewer who walked out.
After about 24 hours, Brewer turned himself in on Saturday afternoon.
The new court procedure is an effort at “reducing the risk of human error,” says Lee Satterfield, the court’s chief judge.
Satterfield said an investigation into how Brewer was able to switch his identification bracelet was ongoing, but he attributed the mistake to human error. As each defendant is presented in court, a marshal looks at the suspect’s wrist band for the name and identification number and is also supposed to review a one-inch black-and-white photo on the band to ensure it matches the person wearing the bracelet.
Satterfield said a marshal did not review the photo in this case carefully enough.
A deputy marshal who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing said Brewer was not the first suspect to switch his plastic identification bracelet in the holding cell.
In other cases, the deputy said, the switches were caught by marshals and no one was mistakenly released. Brewer was the first homicide suspect to effectively switch bracelets undetected.
Satterfield said he was not aware of any other incidents during his 19 years as a judge.
In court Monday, Brewer stood before Magistrate Judge Karen Howze wearing a green shirt and blue jeans and looking starkly different from the man with shoulder-length dreadlocks who came into court Friday. His hair had been cut since the escape.
Two deputy marshals stood behind Brewer, whose legs and arms were shackled.
Brewer’s attorney, Michael Satin of the District’s Public Defender Service, said his client fled the courthouse Friday because he was innocent of the June 27 slaying of Solomon Reese, 71, an Army veteran who lived in Southeast Washington.
Satin said that although a witness told authorities Brewer was part of the robbery at Reese’s home, Brewer did not shoot the victim. “He was scared and frightened of being convicted of something he did not commit,” Satin said of his client’s escape.
Prosecutors argued that Brewer should be held because of the murder charges, the escape attempt and the fact that Brewer was on probation for a 2009 conviction for possessing a machine gun. They also said he had a juvenile record. Howze ordered Brewer held until his next hearing Sept. 1.
Prosecutors are investigating Brewer’s escape to determine if additional charges are warranted, Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, said.
Allen, 30, who had been arrested on July 14 for PCP possession, remains in custody.