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Your 8/15 article “Whose Turn?” by Amanda Ripley levels a series of extremely serious charges against the director of Our Turn, a drop-in center for homeless people, which is operated by Woodley House, one of the District’s most distinguished and respected mental health agencies.
As president of the Woodley House board of directors, and as an attorney myself, I assure you that we treat such allegations seriouslyespecially when they involve illegal drugs, since substance abuse problems afflict so many of our clients. Indeed, we were closely investigating the very issues raised in your article, as well as cooperating with a parallel investigation being conducted by the District’s Mental Health Commission.
I must say, however, that the version of events we have been given by police officials contradicts your story markedly. Your published account is riddled with inaccuracies. Some of these errors may simply be sloppy reporting, others the result of relying on anonymous and unreliable sources whose own motivations should be suspect. In any event, the end result is a mean-spirited article bordering on character assassination.
Allow me to attempt to set the record straight. The central allegation in your story is that Fleming Rice, the director of Our Turn, is a drug dealer. Your evidence for this charge is that “an unnamed cop” said that the police conducting a search of the premises last April found “large ziplock bags and some razor blades dusted with cocaine residue” inside the locked change box of the center’s laundry machines, which were under Mr. Rice’s control. The police were supposedly directed to this location by a supposedly confidential informer. Additionally, you report, an unnamed informer had allegedly purchased drugs from Mr. Rice. The police have never verified this claim.
If true, these are serious and damning charges. But according to the information we were given by police, only some large ziplock sandwich bags were found in the dryer and washer coin boxes, which Mr. Rice says he used for transporting coins from the machine to our administrator. The razor blades were found elsewhere, one in a medicine chest in the bathroom and one in a closet where the homeless kept their clothing and belongings, both of which are accessible to anyone in the building; what you refer to as “cocaine residue,” according to police, was in fact a small amount of residue of unknown origin, found on a razor blade in a pile of clothing belonging to the homeless (it has not, to our knowledge, been tested). Used razor blades ordinarily have traces of white residue on them. It is called shaving cream and soap. The homeless always shave, shower, wash their clothes, and even get haircuts at Our Turn.
This is a far cry from the scene presented in your article. Under the circumstances, it is no surprise the police decided there was no basis for arresting Mr. Rice…or anyone else.
Your unverifiable allegation of an earlier “sting operation” involving Mr. Rice, which you attribute to an “unnamed cop,” is equally troubling. In our discussions with the police, no one has mentioned or suggested that such an operation took place, and if it did take place why are there no arrests and why haven’t we been informed, since we run the program?
It is also worth noting that the
main source of the charges in your account, to whom you ascribe a great deal of credibility, has personal issues and possibly agendas of his own. While confidentiality concerns prevent us from saying more publicly, it ought to be noted that Vincent Jacques is an aggrieved former employee of our agency who apparently bears a grudge against Mr. Rice. After he resigned, for whatever reason, the city denied his application for unemployment compensation.
Finally, a number of smaller yet substantive errors mar your account. You alleged, for example, that Mr. Rice “has his own home in Maryland,” implying, I suppose, that he is living beyond his and his wife’s income. In truth, Mr. Rice and his wife (who also works full-time elsewhere) rent an apartment in Maryland, which is their home. Why in
the world would renting a home in Maryland lend any support to your false statement?
In addition, you quoted a Mount Pleasant neighbor of Our Turn, clothing store owner Veronica Hernandez, as saying that locals “have always had their suspicions about what goes on at Our Turn.” Ms. Hernandez denies ever saying such a thing. She also says that your reporter misrepresented herself as writing a feature story about Our Turn, the same ruse she used in approaching Mr. Rice and seeking his cooperation for her article.
You stated that a man named Corey Settles who witnessed the April police raid was an Our Turn employee. He has never been an employee. You also said that Mr. Jacques was working at Our Turn at the time of the raid, which is untrue. These are admittedly minor errors, but they indicate a sloppiness that is particularly troubling in an article alleging serious criminal violations based on anonymous sources.
Finally, I must take issue with the condescending tone your reporter took in dealing with Woodley House, its director Edith Maeda, and with Mr. Rice. This is an agency, and these are individuals, who have served the homeless and mentally ill of the District for many years, with great integrity and little recognition. They deserve better treatment. Yes, Mr. Rice was once a homeless drug addict. That he is now married, stable, and helping others out of the same predicament is an asset, not an indictment, and he is entitled to the same presumption of innocence as every other American.
Especially offensive is Mr. Jacques’ assertion that Ms. Maeda somehow knew of criminal activity by Mr. Rice but closed her eyes to it because “Fleming is her bread and butter.” The fact of the matter is that Our Turn exists as a community service for homeless people, many of whom are mentally ill and have alcohol and drug abuse problems. It accounts for less than 5 percent of Woodley House’s revenues. This slander reveals more about Mr. Jacques’ mentality than it does about Ms. Maeda, Mr. Rice, or our agency.
In conclusion, your article was a shabby, one-sided account of very serious charges, filled with innuendo, inaccuracies, and character assassination. Fortunately, there is a thorough investigation under way to get at the truth.
President, Board of Directors