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Updated 10:10 p.m.
Has Peter Nickles ever met a controversy he couldn’t whitewash with one of his so-called investigative reports? From his fire-truck mini investigation to his assessment of the missing evidence in the Pershing Park case, Nickles has developed a reputation as a bulldog whose afraid to do much more than bark. Now comes WaPo’s Mike DeBonis’ fine reporting on Nickles’ latest fact-finding mission. This time Nickles promised an exhaustive accounting of the failures at DYRS. DeBonis discovered that the investigation had been headed up by Nickles’ deputy Robert Hildum—the man who has now taken over DYRS. [Hildum also ruined two fire fighters’ careers with a few lies]. Talk about a conflict of interest. But it gets worse. The report itself may have been riddled with problems:
“The report I’ve obtained [PDF], dated May 20, is not so much an investigative report with findings, but a six-page memo that makes ‘general observations’ about the city’s youth justice apparatus before delivering more than a dozen recommendations. It’s entirely possible that a more detailed report has been completed in the meantime, but DYRS officials raised serious questions about the inquiry in an undated response [PDF] to the May 20 document. For instance: Because the OAG staffers tasked with investigating the agency didn’t know how to use the DYRS computer system, the report based some of its recommendations on mistaken findings.”
And to think WaPo’s editorial board slammed critics of DYRS latest personnel moves as being too hasty! DYRS has become a huge problem, one that warranted more than a six page memo, and quick knee-jerk praise from WaPo’s editorial board. At the very least, Councilmember Tommy Wells, whose committee deals with DYRS issues, tells City Desk that the Nickles Report could be a distraction in the city’s efforts to reform DYRS and get the agency out of federal court oversight.
But Wells says he hasn’t even seen “an official” copy of the report.
“I got a report from the Examiner,” Wells says. “I have not gotten an official report even though I asked for it. There does seem like there was this tension between prosecutors and DYRS and Peter Nickles won. It does seem like the report started off with a conclusion.”
Wells continues: “This [case] seemed closest to getting out from under the class-action lawsuit…I think the report is a distraction from the bigger picture….I’ve had concerns about DYRS, but what I need is good evidence, good data. This appears to have been a dispute between two government agencies and the bigger one won. We just need to be sure they don’t mess up the [reforms].”
Plaintiffs in the Jerry M. case could make the report, and the installation of Hildum to head DYRS, an issue in court. The plaintiffs in the CFSA federal oversight case successfully argued that they hadn’t been consulted when Mayor Adrian Fenty and Co. hired Roque Gerald to head that troubled agency. A judge had required that the plaintiffs be consulted on that hiring. The judge in the CFSA case eventually held Fenty in contempt of court.
Update: DeBonis posted an update this afternoon. Nickles denied Hildum’s lead role in the DYRS investigation. Still, Nickles does not deny that Hildum was involved. He just didn’t play the lead role. A copy of a longer more involved report [PDF] revealed a more in-depth analysis of the issues surrounding the troubled agency (if you discount the first two pages of fluff).
Liz Ryan of the Campaign For Youth Justice sent out a press release condemning the OAG’s research methods and the OAG’s apparent conflict of interest:
“It cannot be ignored that, OAG is investigating how youth offenders are treated, and at the same time, has the authority to prosecute those offenders,” said Daniel Okonkwo, Executive Director of D.C. Lawyers for
Youth. “We ask that the DC Council hold immediate hearings on how this report was done and ask credible academics to comment on what appears to be a shoddy piece of ‘research’ that has resulted in a major decision being made about a City Department.”
Campaign for Youth Justice also highlights discrepancies in juvenile arrest statistics:
“The OAG said juvenile crime is increasing. The latest figures from the Metropolitan Police Department show that, in absolute terms, juvenile arrests are down -2 percent, compared with the first six months of 2009. Overall, juvenile index (serious) crime has declined slightly over the past five years. Index crime is the primary indicator reported by the FBI, but OAG’s report carefully avoided reporting overall index crime data in its ‘analysis.'”