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It should have been a straightforward drunk driving case. The Jan. 21 trial should have been like one of the hundreds of other DUI cases the District’s Office of the Attorney General handles each year. But when the arresting officer took the stand, things started going wrong.
In describing how he pulled over the driver, the cop started discussing details that had never been shared with the OAG. Worse, that meant they’d never been shared with the defense, either.
That’s how the District found out it had a problem with I/LEADS, the Metropolitan Police Department’s arrest database that has been causing major headaches for District government lawyers. It’s designed to capture information about arrests that can then fulfill discovery obligations to defense lawyers. But according to both Attorney General Karl Racine and U.S. Attorney Ron Machen, I/LEADS has failed to export all the information about some cases. The system has been in place since 2012, which means nearly three years’ worth of cases have to be reviewed.
Now both the District and the feds are struggling to determine how many cases could have been affected by the database’s flaws. The failures may have already impacted dozens of city cases, according to Racine, who compares the city’s case review to the epic 2011 slog over botched breathalyzer results.
Just who’s to blame for the I/LEADS flop isn’t clear. In an interview with the Washington Post, MPD Assistant Chief Peter Newsham blamed the U.S. Attorney’s Office for not vetting I/LEADS data closely enough, while a March 16 letter sent by Machen to defense attorneys places the blame on MPD. (MPD spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump referred questions about I/LEADS to prosecutors).
Either way, the case has sent government lawyers scrambling to share potentially missed I/LEADS information with defense attorneys. First up: cases that are headed to trial soon. Racine says there’s a chance that as many as 14,000 cases were affected, while Machen’s office says their federal workload is even heavier.
I/LEADS is already having an impact in court, but not the kind its designers probably hoped for. Machen spokesman Bill Miller says no cases from his office have been dropped or overturned yet because of the missing data, and a review of cases ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan turned up no problems in his court. But a rough estimate from Racine puts the number of cases that have been dropped because of I/LEADS at more than a “handful,” less than a hundred, and somewhere around “dozens.” Racine admits, however, the cases could have been dropped for other problems, too. “It’s unlikely that we’re talking about problems in the thousands at all,” he says.
To handle the load, OAG has hired defense attorney Habib Ilahi as a special counsel for I/LEADS and forensics lab reviews. MPD has also created a direct link to I/LEADS for OAG employees, so they can finally make sure they’re getting everything they need to out of the system.
“It is a massive, massive job,” says OAG spokesman Robert Marus.
Staffed in the Back
Is anyone left in the Executive Office of the Mayor? Last week saw two Bowser officials head for the exits under mysterious circumstances.
First on the chopping block: Ayawna Chase Webster, who LL readers with a long memory will recognize as a former crony to sticky-fingered ex-Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.
Webster, the one-time chief of staff for the former Ward 5 councilmember, took a plea last year for her role in funneling more than $100,000 at Thomas’ request. The money, meant to go to drug prevention for young people, went to the decidedly not youthful crowd at a 2009 inaugural ball. (A video of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton dancing to go-go hit “Da Butt” figured prominently in the case.)
Somehow, a history of pillaging the city treasury didn’t stop Webster from getting a job in the Bowser administration. Webster returned to the District government as the director of operations for Serve D.C., Bowser’s office on volunteerism. After LL started asking around the mayor’s office if they had really hired a noted crook, Webster found herself out of a job.
Bowser spokesman Michael Czin wouldn’t comment on what led to Webster’s exit. For her part, curiously, Webster insists that she never worked at Serve D.C. But LL has an idea on why she got the boot—or rather, more than 100,000 ideas. Czin wrote in an email that Bowser’s administration is doing a “top to bottom” review on how it makes appointments.
This ain’t exactly Sulaimon Brown, or even the nepotism that swept the Wilson Building after Vince Gray took over four years ago. And LL knows the mayor is all about “top to bottom” reviews. But how much of a review do you need to not hire someone who stole city money?
Heads hadn’t finished rolling down Pennsylvania Ave. NW just yet: Two days after Webster got the boot, LL confirmed that Bowser Office of Veterans Affairs Director Hugh L. Elmore is out of a job, too.
Again, Czin declined to comment on a personnel matter, while LL couldn’t reach Elmore. There are some theories in city hall circles on why Elmore is out less than three months into a new administration. For now, though, there’s only one big question: who’s next?
Photo: Darrow Montgomery/file