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Officials at the D.C. office of the attorney general declined to comment on the Godleskis’ lawsuit, which was first reported by the Washington Examiner. A DYRS spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit also names the agency’s director, Neil A. Stanley, as a defendant. He took the reins at the agency months after Godleski’s death, although questions remain about the agency’s ability to supervise and rehabilitate its wards.

Mr. Graham, who oversees DYRS as chairman of the Committee on Human Services, and council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, voted against Mr. Stanely’s confirmation at a committee markup, citing his lack of experience and ongoing problems at the agency. However, Mr. Stanley was automatically confirmed when the full council failed to vote on his confirmation before its summer recess.

Mr. Graham said he has sent a series of specific questions to DYRS leadership in an attempt to address recent concerns, but declined to elaborate on their content.

“The number of escapes and abscondences is raising some very serious questions at this point,” he said.

Mr. Graham referred to the Godleski incident as “a brutal killing” and noted that he was reminded of it when a taxi driver was killed last month. A DYRS ward who escaped custody is accused in that killing.

Mr. Graham said he is considering using his oversight powers to hold a hearing on the conditions in group homes and other DYRS institutions, how wards are monitored once they are released and whether the public can feel secure with these ex-offenders among them.

He also said he wants to know whether officials are addressing substance abuse among the youths, because he does not think many of their crimes are committed “with a sober mind.”

The basis for the Godleski lawsuit — perceived negligence by a D.C. agency — and even the dollar amount sought by the family is reminiscent of a lawsuit filed after the 2006 killing of New York Times reporter David E. Rosenbaum. Most notably, the high-profile case and settlement highlighted litigation’s capacity to be the catalyst for institutional changes in city government.

Mr. Rosenbaum was walking in his Northwest neighborhood when he was beaten and robbed. He died two days later.

An investigation found that “a neglectful, botched emergency response” by the D.C. FEMS contributed to Mr. Rosenbaum’s death.

The Rosenbaum family filed a $20 million civil lawsuit in November 2006 against the District and Howard University Hospital, charging that the emergency response and poor care by hospital workers contributed to Mr. Rosenbaum’s death.

In 2008, Rosenbaum family members and former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty agreed to a settlement in which the lawsuit would be dropped in exchange for the creation of a task force to examine ways to improve the city’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services department.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, said there are “pros and cons” to suing the government.

“One of the pros,” he said, “is that it forces the government to be more accountable.”

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