Shooting victim’s family sues over DYRS ‘failures’

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The family of a Catholic University student who was fatally shot while bicycling through Petworth last year has filed a $20 million lawsuit against the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, accusing the agency of failing to supervise the 16-year-old murder suspect committed to its custody.

The lawsuit states that on the day of the fatal shooting, DYRS “incompetently supervised the juveniles under their control,” allowing the suspect, Eric Foreman, “to evade supervision and detention.”

The court action is the latest trouble for the city’s embattled juvenile justice agency, which has struggled to rehabilitate roughly 1,000 youths in its care. A 2010 investigation by The Washington Times found that in a one-year period, one-fifth of D.C. homicides involved a youth in custody of DYRS, either as a suspect or victim.

Among them was the killing of Neil Godleski.

Police said Foreman, a ward of the city, fatally shot Godleski, 31, during a robbery as Godleski bicycled home from his job as a waiter at a restaurant near the Southwest waterfront. Godleski was shot several times as he rode through Sherman Circle in Northwest. When he fell from the bicycle, Foreman shot him twice more at close range while he was on the ground, police said. The robbery netted $60.

Dupree House, located in the Petworth neighborhood on Colorado Avenue NW, is operated by the nonprofit group Associates for Renewal in Education Inc. (J.M. Eddins Jr./The Washington Times)

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Dupree House, located in the Petworth neighborhood on Colorado Avenue NW, is ... more >

At the time of the Aug. 22, 2010, homicide, Foreman, who is awaiting trial, was staying at Dupree House, a group home operated by the DYRS-contracted company, Associates for Renewal in Education.

The lawsuit, initially filed by Godleski’s parents in D.C. Superior Court but moved to federal court this week, alleges the District, DYRS and Associates for Renewal in Education are at fault for Godleski’s death. It goes on to say that the District “should have known their employees at DYRS, acting at their direction, were incompetent and unfit to perform the duties of their respective jobs at the time they were hired and thereafter.”

It cites the conclusions of the investigation by The Times, and those in a January article in which The Times reported that there are no records documenting inspections, escapes or unusual incidents at Dupree House.

The Northwest group home was described by a police detective in an affidavit filed in an unrelated February 2010 killing.

One of the first-floor bedrooms where youths stay “can easily be entered from the outside and easily exited from the inside by merely opening the window,” the officer wrote.

“There are no surveillance cameras either inside or outside the facility, which monitor the residents’ comings and goings. Likewise, the building is not even alarmed,” the officer noted.

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, recalled being “totally unimpressed” during a visit to Dupree House after Godleski’s death. He also noted that DYRS wards have walked away from custody at airports and from One Judiciary Square in recent months.

“It does raise some questions about how secure these children are while they are in our custody,” he said, noting there seemed to be a lack of communication among the officers responsible for those wards. “There’s too much Keystone Kop here.”

In a written response to the suit, Associates for Renewal in Education states that Foreman was a resident of Dupree House for a period of time but that the company is “unable to admit or deny whether he was a resident ‘at all times pertinent’ to the complaint.”

Foreman’s first-degree murder trial is scheduled for February.

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