In the nation’s capital, it’s a fair question to ask: Who gets the better deal, innocent citizens who want to own a gun, or dangerous criminals? The District’s deliberate policy of releasing criminals back onto the streets shows the liberal city council’s answer has little to do with public safety.
Take the case of Ramad Speight, an admitted psychotic and alleged cop-shooter. He was in custody from March until July 16 when a D.C. judge freed him to travel around the city with a few restrictions. Mr. Speight was under arrest following a shootout with Montgomery County, Md. police that left him shot three times in the torso. The officers had responded to a 911 call about shots fired on the north side of Eastern Avenue, just inside the District line.
According to prosecutors, Mr. Speight stood outside his home, yelled “Game over,” raised his loaded revolver and opened fire on the officers. They ran for cover, but Mr. Speight allegedly kept shooting, hitting one officer in the hand.
Mr. Speight was hospitalized and then held without bond on 11 charges, including having an illegal gun. Public defender Michael Satin petitioned for his release, citing Mr. Speight’s use of antipsychotic medication since June as evidence that he’s now less dangerous. The lawyer added the defendant’s right arm is paralyzed from the shooting, which “reduces his ability to commit a crime in the community.”
D.C. Superior Court Judge Florence Pan, who was appointed by President Obama, released him from home confinement, setting lenient terms that allowed Mr. Speight to leave his mother’s home for school, medical or mental health appointments and court matters. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, wouldn’t comment on the ruling, but said Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Barlotta opposed Mr. Speight’s release based on “our belief that he presents a danger to the community.”
This wasn’t an isolated case. The idea to make it easier for judges to hold defendants in jail before trial orginated in then-Mayor Anthony Williams’s administration. In Jan. 2008, Phil Mendelson, then the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, held a hearing on the proposal. The at-large Democrat told the police and government witnesses that he opposed the concept on civil liberties grounds, adding that, “our laws favor release, not detention.”
While violent crime is down nationwide, it’s up 7 percent in the District so far this year. “One of the reasons for that is Phil Mendelson and his policies of the last six years that have put all criminals, including violent criminals, out on the streets pending trial,” said Kristopher Baumann, head of Washington’s police union. “It’s a recipe for disaster.” Mr. Mendelson’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Law-abiding citizens who want to get a gun legally receive no such leniency. The District makes them pay fees, take a written test, travel to police headquarters at least twice and wait 10 days. The bad guys just walk down the street and buy a gun quickly. However, if someone uses an illegal gun to commit a violent crime, all of a sudden the city starts to worry about his civil liberties.
As Officer Baumann said, “Only in D.C. can you shoot a police officer and be sent home to think about what you did wrong, instead of going to jail.” The District needs to reverse its priorities to make the city safer.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.