City Paper is not for tourists
On March 21, Erika Peters and her two young boys were found murdered in their Carver Terrace home at 2000 Maryland Avenue NE Apt. 104. Within hours, her live-in boyfriend Joseph Randolph Mays was charged with the fatal stabbings. This week I wrote a cover story about the tragedy and the several questions left unresolved. One of the big questions: What exact time was the 911 call made?
Peters’ neighbors say the police arrived a lot earlier than 1 p.m. (the time listed on the police department’s press release). Two government sources suggested the neighbors are correct. If this is true, it would mean the police took at least two hours to get inside the Peters’ home.
I asked repeatedly for the exact time from various government officials. They all stonewalled me on this most basic fact. Attorney General Peter Nickles gave the reason most often used—-the Peters case was an on-going case so that fact could not be made public.
I am still unsure why the exact time of the first 911 call would have any bearing on the case against Mays. The stonewalling was just unnecessary and unusually obnoxious even for government officials in the age of Fenty. I know people have a low tolerance for whiny journalists. But this is different. This issue goes to public safety and accountability.
So here’s a list of the officials who stonewalled me:
1) Fifth District Commander Lamar Greene. He was one of the first people to inform the community about the triple homicide. He tapped out an entry on 5D’s listserve that day. But when it came to offering details about the timeline, Greene didn’t return multiple calls to his office.
2) D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier: She failed to respond to my e-mail asking her for the exact time of the 911 call or whether the police had ever come to the Peters’ home prior to March 21. Lanier had no problem appearing at a press conference on the day of the murders or on News Channel 8 soon after to say that police had done all that they could.
3) Assistant Chief Diane Groomes: She is in charge of patrol services. In the first few hours after the murders were discovered, Groomes told me the department was going through its records to see what interaction the police had with the Peters’ family prior to March 21. Yet when asked about prior 911 calls or the exact time of the first 911 call, she turned me away. She forwarded my e-mails to the department’s public information office.
4) Gwendolyn Crump: Ms. Crump works in the public information office. When asked about the 911 call or any other 911 calls, she told me I had to submit a FOIA. This is the department’s way of saying you aren’t going to get the information you want. Ever.
5) Traci Hughes: Before this D.C. Police Department talking head went on maternity leave, she also refused to give the exact time of the 911 calls.
6) The Fifth District secretary: There is one document that the police produces that is public. It is the initial incident report. All you have to do is go down to the district to pick it up. When I arrived at 5D and explained what I wanted—-providing the date of the incident and the report’s number—-I was told that the case was “too fresh” and that I could not get a copy of the public report. “Too fresh” is not a valid reason. I was then told I had to go to the public information office and ask for permission. I called PIO and was told I could get the report. The person at PIO told me they’d call 5D and smooth everything over. As far as I know they never called. I stood there at 5D for a half hour before an officer finally gave me the report.
7) Janice Quintana, the director of the Office of Unified Communications: Ms. Quintana is the worst stonewaller of the bunch. It is her office that handles 911 calls. During a hearing five days after the murders, Councilmember Phil Mendelson asked her repeatedly for a timeline. She refused to give it to him. She also refused to take my calls to her office and home. Quintana’s performance at the hearing was one of the main motivators for doing the cover story. Her behavior at the hearing was too obnoxious to ignore.
This is what will happen to the Peters case: Many months from now the exact time of the 911 call and any other police interaction will be filed in court. By then, the city will have moved on to a newer tragedy. Few outside of her family will notice or care about the Peters case anymore.
*photo of Carver Terrace courtyard by Darrow Montgomery.