D.C. U.S. Attorney Ron Machen has been on the job for only a little more than a month and he has already found himself in the middle of a brewing storm.
Machen has been pushed into the spotlight over his office’s handling of a man who allegedly participated in a drive-by shooting Tuesday night that led to four deaths and five wounded people. The drive-by was one of the worst shootings in D.C. history.
A few days before to the shootings, D.C. police had asked the U.S. Attorney’s office to obtain a warrant for the arrest of the man, Orlando Carter, in connection with an earlier homicide. But prosecutors decided not to act on the request because they said they determined there wasn’t enough evidence at the time for a warrant. The U.S. Attorneys office for the District of Columbia prosecutes cases on behalf of the D.C. Police, as well as federal law enforcement cases.
“We can only approve arrest warrants when sufficient probable cause has been established for a particular offense after a thorough review of the evidence,” the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a statement released Thursday to the D.C. Examiner.
D.C. homicide detectives have expressed frustration with the way the U.S. Attorney’s office has handled similar incidents, according to The Washington Post. Detectives said the prosecutors’ caution was unnecessary.
“I think they expected the United States Attorney’s Office . . . to do their important legal review, but also to really take at face value what the police department has said about evidence,” D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said in an interview with WTOP radio.
Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said on NewsChannel 8 that she understood why the D.C. detectives spoke out and that it is common for there to be differences of opinion between prosecutors and police working on cases.
According to the D.C. Examiner, Lanier requested an emergency meeting with Machen last week and specifically asked for a warrant to arrest Carter. Prosecutors denied the request based on a lack of evidence
Norman Williams, the father of one of the murdered men, told WTOP that he believes racism played a role in the U.S. Attorney’s office decision not to request a warrant for Carter before he participated in the shooting.
Williams told the news radio station about a conversation he said he had with prosecutors at the courthouse.
“I said, ‘Are you telling me an African-American witness is less credited than a white witness?’” Williams said. “If a Caucasian lady said, ‘Hey, that guy stole my bike,’ you’re going to lock him up, not ask any questions. If a black lady says, ‘That guy stole my bike,’ you’re going to ask her a bunch of questions — ‘Where’s your receipt? Is the bike registered? Where did you get the bike? How long have you had the bike?’
“It’s black-on-black crime,” Williams said. “They’re not interested in protecting the community. If a white kid gets shot, you’d better believe it buddy, they’re going to lock the city down.”
Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips told WTOP the he “strongly and emphatically denies race played a factor in how this case was handled, nor does it ever in any of our decisions.”
“Our deepest sympathies go out to all of the victims and their family members of this terrible tragedy, but they can rest assured that our decisions are color-blind, and based on only the facts and the law,” Phillips told the news radio station.