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Just before dusk on July 19, Evette Mcdowell was gathering her kids’ toys from inside her car when her 13-year-old son, who’d just stepped out of the vehicle, started shouting to her. “They’re beating up that old man!” he yelled.
Mcdowell turned. On the opposite side of the 1300 block of Harvard Street NW, a teenager in jeans and a black shirt was savagely beating an older man. A second teen, in shorts and a white shirt, stood by, watching. As Mcdowell screamed, “Oh, my God!” the boy in jeans stooped and took the man’s wallet, then stomped on his face. Both teens fled up the street, leaving the victim bloodied on the ground, groceries strewn around him.
The boys ran west on Harvard and turned south onto 14th Street. Mcdowell, a single mother of seven, decided to tail them in her car.
She sped south on 13th Street, paralleling the boys’ route. Guessing that they might get off 14th Street at the quieter Girard Street, she turned right on Girard to head them off. She crossed 14th and went on to the corner of 15thwhere she spotted the boys in her rearview mirror, walking on Girard behind her.
When the boys stopped walking, Mcdowell drove back to the scene of the assault. Her son had summoned three security officers from the offices of the Section 8 apartment complex at 2900 14th St. “[The officers] were about to run [after the teens],” says Mcdowell. “But I told them to get into the car.”
With three security officers riding along, Mcdowell retraced her route to the place where she’d seen the teens stop. They were still there, hanging around outside an apartment building. When the guards emerged from the car, they bolted.
The guards ran down and detained the boy in shorts, who’d watched during the attack. The one in jeans, who’d done the beating, vanished into an apartment complex a few blocks away.
Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers took the captive, a 15-year-old, off the security officers’ hands and hauled him to the scene of the incident for identification.
Mcdowell and several neighbors say that officers got the boy out of the car and stood him up about 15 yards away from her. An officer asked her if the teen had been present during the attack. In plain sight of the boy, Mcdowell nodded uncomfortably and said yes.
“He saw me when I ID’d him,” Mcdowell says. “And he saw me when he was sitting in the [police cruiser].”
Mcdowell told the officers that she hadn’t seen this boy strike the victim, who had already been taken in an ambulance to George Washington University Hospital.
Police took the boy away, and Mcdowell, the security officers, and some neighbors lingered outside. Mcdowell says one neighbor told her she should have looked the other way. “She yelled at me that it was dumb,” says Mcdowell. “She said, ‘Your children have to live here. What if those kids come back?’”
It didn’t take long for Mcdowell to start worrying about the woman’s words. A few minutes after the police were gone, a security guard, Xavier Brooks Sr., spotted the teen who’d just left in the squad car ambling back up the street on his own. “That’s him!” he shouted. The police had taken the kid for a short ride and then let him go.
The others were incredulous, but they realized Brooks was right. Brooks apprehended the teen and handcuffed him again. “What if he came back and beat up on [Mcdowell]?” says another security officer, Tarsha Thomas. “We couldn’t believe MPD did that.”
The security officers took the boy to the apartments’ headquarters, photographed him, and told him he was barred from the property. By that point, property manager Tim Hursen says, about a half-dozen teens had gathered near the doors, clamoring for the boy to be released.
When Hursen phoned the MPD’s 3rd District and explained the situation, he says, he was told a cruiser would be sent. After waiting a half hour, the security officers released the boy. Hursen says he waited another hour after that, but no cruiser ever arrived.
In a July 25 letter to Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who inquired about the incident, Chief Charles Ramsey wrote, “It appears at this point that proper procedures for releasing a person in our custody may not have been followed.”
According to the letter, the officers released the boy because they had concluded he was a witness, not a participant in the attack. The boy told police he ran from the security officers out of fearnot because he was involved.
Mcdowell believed otherwise. About a week later, she was sure of it. She says the boy she’d identified showed up outside her apartment and approached her son who had seen the beating. Her son ran inside looking terrified. “I knew it, I knew it,” he told his mother. “It was the boy. He said, ‘Why’d your mom snitch?’”
Mcdowell and the security officers believe the boy they apprehended was acting as a lookout for the boy who committed the beating. “The kid stood there through the entire thing,” Mcdowell says. “And when they ran, they ran together.” The case is still open, and no follow-up arrests have been made, according to MPD spokesperson Sgt. Joe Gentile. Officer Confessor Martinez, who was involved in the original arrest, has been placed on “noncontact status,” or administrative duty, while an internal investigation is carried out.
As for Mcdowell, she says there have been two additional incidents in which neighborhood kids told her children that their mother was a snitch. And on Aug. 11, her son again saw the boy she had identified hanging around Harvard Street. This time, she says, the boy said nothing. He simply pointed a finger at her son as if it were a gun. CP