Dozens of uncollected trash cans and recycling bins crowd an alley between T and Westminster streets NW. (Aaron C. Davis/The Washington Post)

Two months ago, the District dubbed Mina Karini and Timothy Logan Melham thieves — arrested, briefly jailed and set to be prosecuted for taking discarded trash bins on which the city had affixed “Take Me!” stickers. They said they wanted to turn the containers into flower pots.

But nearly two months before the artist and wildlife biologist were next due in D.C. Superior Court, prosecutors have quietly dropped misdemeanor theft charges against the pair.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to explain the rationale, but Melham’s attorney said she thinks that the government was embarrassed and wanted the case to disappear. The arrests sparked a public backlash against the government over law enforcement priorities and the District’s failure to collect thousands of old bins that officials had told residents to leave outside to be recycled.

“It was a ridiculous case,” said Melham’s attorney, Carol A. Blume, saying her client and his friend were doing a public service by helping clear away bins littering neighborhoods across the city. “They were going to put these bins to good use. . . . The government needs to deal with bigger, more important cases.”

Court records show that the single criminal charge of misdemeanor theft filed against 30-year-old Karini, the artist, was dropped June 24. Her attorney, Theresa Y. Jenkins, did not return calls seeking comment. Blume said the U.S. attorney’s office notified her by e-mail, also on June 24, that prosecutors would not pursue the same charge against 27-year-old Melham, the biologist currently working in New Mexico.

Karini and Melham were arrested April 21 as they drove around Georgetown and other neighborhoods about 1 a.m. A Secret Service agent guarding a Georgetown home detained them. A D.C police report said Melham was walking “stealthily down the sidewalk” with his hood over his head “to conceal his face.” Police said the couple had 51 bins in their vehicle.

In an interview in May, Karini said she wanted to spruce up her home with flowers and maybe display some at Eastern Market, where she sells her work.

Karini said the couple picked up bins discarded on public streets and that all had “Take Me!” stickers. Residents had been told to use the stickers to mark old bins that were to be replaced.

District officials noted that in addition to the cute “Take Me!” saying, the stickers also warned that the bins were District property. Officials said the bins were to be recycled and that by taking them the defendants were depriving the city of money — about 10 cents per pound for each 15-pound container.

But in May, District officials admitted that crews had sent at least 132 truckloads of plastic bins — one third of the more than 16,000 collected in a single week — to a landfill to be incinerated. Officials said it was necessary because so many had accumulated on the streets that destroying them became the most efficient way of dealing with the backlog.

Blume, Melham’s attorney, said that helped the defense.

“They never would have won this case,” she said of prosecutors. “The bins were going to be destroyed. I think once they looked at this case and put their reading glasses on and saw where things were heading, they decided not to go forward.”

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