A man who police charged in a series of robberies and attempted sexual assaults, including several on Capitol Hill, began his alleged spree hours after he walked away from a halfway house while serving time for aggravated assault, according to D.C. police and court records.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has repeatedly blamed repeat violent offenders for a significant portion of the city’s crime.
“It is those folks we are seeing that are increasingly involved in crime,” Lanier told reporters at a news conference about the arrest. Police had released surveillance video in some of the attacks, including a violent incident on Capitol Hill in which a woman was pushed to the ground from behind.
Police said they arrested Melvin Dehardt Latney, 25, of Southeast Washington, on Thursday. A warrant filed in D.C. Superior Court says detectives found him at an apartment on Savannah Terrace SE by tracking a cellphone stolen from one of the victims.
Latney was charged with five counts of robbery using force or violence and two counts of attempted sexual assault. He was ordered detained until a hearing Jan. 21. His attorney, Galit Lipa, could not be reached for comment.
Police also charged Latney with escape for allegedly walking away from the halfway house, Hope Village in Southeast Washington, on Nov. 24. Court records show that Latney was serving a 30-month prison sentence for aggravated assault.
On that day, Lanier said, “he began his spree of crime.”
An attack occurred about 10:30 p.m. Nov. 24 in the 200 block of Eighth Street SE, three blocks from Lincoln Park. Police said a woman was walking on the street when she was pushed to the ground from behind. Police said that a tote bag containing personal items was taken and that the attacker tried to sexually assault the woman, who suffered injuries.
Other robberies occurred Nov. 25, Dec. 1, Dec. 22 and Dec. 31. Police said areas targeted were spots on Capitol Hill, at the Potomac Gardens housing complex, near a recreation center in Northeast Washington and along the H Street corridor. Police said the attack near the recreation center, in the 100 block of Seaton Place NE, also involved an attempted sexual assault.
Lanier said detectives built a case from physical evidence and from surveillance video that captured parts of four of five of the robberies. Video was posted on the department’s website and shown by the news media, and the chief said people called in tips. “We realized we had to get this person off the street,” Lanier said.
Robberies have been a particular concern in the District. Although numbers are significantly down from several years ago, the attacks have frightened residents in hard-hit areas of the city, such as on Capitol Hill, where hundreds of angry residents packed a community meeting to confront city leaders.
Robberies went up slightly in 2015, to 3,447, a 5 percent increase from the 3,296 reported in 2014. This year has gotten off to a tough start, with police reporting 158 robberies through Friday, up 42 percent from the 111 at this time in 2015.