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Case dropped after inmate waits 4 years for trial

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Federal prosecutors have dropped all charges against a D.C. man who has spent four years in jail awaiting trial in a triple shooting involving an off-duty Metropolitan Police Department officer.

Carlton John Brown, 50, was arrested in the May 15, 2004, shooting outside the former Dream nightclub in Northeast. At the time, authorities said, Mr. Brown, while working as a security guard at the club, opened fire with a handgun during a dispute over a vehicle parked near the exit of the club.

Court filings contained no explanation for why prosecutors moved to drop the case after charging Mr. Brown in a 13-count indictment that included charges of assault with intent to kill and aggravated assault while armed. However, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Tuesday that the case wasn't strong enough to take to trial.

"The bottom line is that we no longer believed we had sufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt," said Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. "We, therefore, were compelled to move to dismiss the charges."

Mr. Brown could not be reached for comment. The trial was scheduled for this past Monday, but the case was dismissed a week earlier, according to court filings.

Defense attorney A. Eduardo Balarezo said his client was happy that charges were dropped but was prepared to go to trial and prove his innocence.

"It's a shame it took four years of Mr. Brown sitting in jail pending trial for the government to do the right thing and dismiss the case," he said.

"I was Mr. Brown's fifth attorney and it was apparent upon my initial review of the file that the evidence did not support the charges. Thankfully, the government finally realized this also," Mr. Balarezo said.

All three shooting victims, none of whom suffered life-threatening injuries, later filed lawsuits against the nightclub. Two of the cases were settled out of court and a third is pending, according D.C. Superior Court records.

In a deposition, one of the victims, Derrick Potts, an off-duty Metropolitan Police Department officer, said he was on his way into the club about 2 a.m. to meet two friends when he heard an argument in the street outside the club.

"So I could hear someone saying, 'You can't park your vehicle there.' And in response I heard, 'Well, make me move my truck; you make me move my truck,'" Officer Potts said.

"They got to arguing. ... The guy said, 'Make me move my truck,' and I could see some pushing and shoving, but I don't know who was pushing, who shoved or pushed who first or anything like that," he said.

"And that's when I heard the gunshot."

He said he heard four or five shots altogether, and that he ducked beneath a truck and felt a bullet hit his leg.

Officer Potts later settled a lawsuit against the nightclub for an undisclosed sum. He declined to comment Tuesday. An attorney for the nightclub in the case also declined to comment, citing a confidentiality provision.