Teen Robbery Suspect Is Back on the Street

From the Washington City Paper blog City Desk

On Saturday, the Washington Post published a story about how District residents had sent dozens of e-mails to city officials demanding that a teenager suspected in some 21 muggings and robberies be kept behind bars, after he had been released twice after being judged incompetent to stand trial.

“As of [Friday] night, he hadn’t been” released, the Post reported.

Turns out, that wasn’t true. Unbeknownst to top city authorities, the suspect -- who has been identified as Michael Richardson, 18 --was released by U.S. Marshals on Friday afternoon, Attorney General Peter Nickles tells City Paper this evening.

He remains at large.

After Nickles pressed for more information on the matter today, he says, police this afternoon discovered that Richardson had been released, and they’ve been searching for him ever since.

The circumstances surrounding the Friday release are not totally clear. Nickles says the U.S. attorney’s office, which prosecutes most criminal offenses in the District, had decided last week not to pursue charges against Richardson in connection with his third and most recent arrest. But even so, a standing custody order should have prevented his release, pending a civil commitment proceeding scheduled for this coming Friday. There, a judge would determine whether he should be involuntarily committed for treatment. U.S. Marshals, he says, were “neglectful of or ignorant of” that custody order when releasing Richardson.

The case is complicated by the fact that Richardson recently turned 18; as a minor, he had been judged mentally retarded and thus incompetent to stand trial. Nickles says he’s “very unhappy and outraged” that Richardson is back on the street, and he criticized the federal prosecutors for not pursuing charges.

Channing Phillips, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office, defends that decision. “In our view, there was insufficient evidence to go forward. We were obliged to not go forward,” he says. “I will add, though, if the Office of the Attorney General disagreed … they were free to charge the person themselves.”

If and when Richardson is found, he will stand for the civil commitment hearing; Nickles says his lawyers will be prepared for such a proceeding as soon as Wednesday.

In the Post article, Nickles was quoted having a rather brusque attitude toward the cops’ e-mail campaign: “I don’t mind getting 20 e-mails about a particular problem that reflects the unique perspective of people in the community, but I don’t approve of an organized campaign to send me 50 e-mails.”

In comments to LL this evening, his attitude toward the e-mails had softened. “Some were generated where the same words were used,” he says, but “many were personal, from persons who had been robbed, persons who had been mugged.”

“I feel very bad for the community,” Nickles says, and he vows to exhaust every option to keep Richardson off the street.

The police lieutenant, Edward Delgado, who asked residents on local Internet discussion groups to flood Nickles and other officials with e-mails tonight declined to speak with a City Paper reporter about the e-mail campaign or the suspect.

—Mike DeBonis and Jason Cherkis

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