- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Prince George's County police believe Eric William Murray held up several stores at gunpoint after the 17-year-old escaped Aug. 1 from the District's Oak Hill Juvenile Detention Center.

There is a Prince George's County warrant for Eric's arrest, but the youth is once again back in the custody of the D.C. Youth Services Administration at Oak Hill.

Eric was one of at least 22 youths who have escaped from Oak Hill during the last nine months. The Washington Times reported yesterday that since March one in six of the 122 Oak Hill residents has escaped, more than a dozen inmates are still at large and one was shot to death.

Eric was at least the second Oak Hill inmate to escape custody while being taken to a hospital for treatment.

On March 12, a 15-year-old accused of two high-profile rapes of city employees escaped from the back of an ambulance while being transported from St. Elizabeths Hospital. Youth service officials promised tighter security, but Oak Hill employees said security is just as lax now as when Eric escaped.

Eric, who was arrested Jan. 11, has tried to escape from Oak Hill since being returned there Jan. 16 and is now "locked down" in a facility dormitory. A Prince George's County Police Department spokesman said county police were not aware that Eric was in the D.C. custody although there is a warrant for his arrest.

"This is a bad one. He should be in a Maryland prison," said a youth services official.

"They're lucky he didn't kill someone," the official said.

George Perkins, youth services deputy administrator and superintendent of Oak Hill, yesterday refused to comment on The Times' report, or on the Eric Murray case, when reached on his cellular telephone. He said it was his agency's policy to have a public relations employee filter calls from news organizations.

"I'll turn it over to our media people. But they aren't open today," Mr. Perkins said.

Mr. Perkins and his boss, Gayle Turner, the chief administrator of the Youth Service Agency, did not respond to telephone calls made to its offices during business hours on Friday, before publication of The Times' report.

Requests for an explanation of the unusual number of escapes from Oak Hill were also made to the press information office of the Department of Human Services on Friday, but they, too, went unanswered.

The escape of Eric is pretty typical of the way youth services underestimates the violent nature of inmates of Oak Hill, who are either serving their terms for committing serious criminal activities or awaiting trial, employees said.

The Times found in its investigation of escapes at Oak Hill that administrators failed to properly repair a hole in a fence at Oak Hill which allowed two groups of youths to escape on separate occasions, months apart.

In addition, Oak Hill inmates escaped from custody at a Soap Box Derby they were participating in and from Christmas furloughs.

Prince George's County police believe Eric was one of two men with handguns who held up a Mount Rainier liquor store on June 27. The police believe Eric was shot when the owner opened fire.

The warrant for Eric's arrest charges him with running across the streets and stealing a car from a woman at a service station. He forced the woman at gunpoint into her car and had her drive him to Providence Hospital.

The D.C. police arrested him at the hospital June 27 and recovered the gun from the woman's car. He was arrested on charges of armed robbery and carjacking and sent back to Oak Hill.

D.C. Superior Court records do not indicate he was charged as an adult, but Prince George's County issued a fugitive warrant for him because it believed he was involved in a series of armed robberies of small stores.

Eric arrived at Oak Hill in a wheelchair and on Aug. 1 was taken to Southeast Hospital for physical therapy, where he escaped.

"He said he couldn't walk. He was there for physical therapy, and part of his treatment was to walk down a hallway. He started walking, and he ran out the door," said an Oak Hill employee. "It was part of a sham."

While he was free for more than five months, police believe he returned to armed robbery of stores in Maryland and the District. He was eventually captured on Jan. 11 with another man wanted in the District, a law enforcement source said.

"They've had wanted posters out for him," said the source. "They think he was involved in over 20 robberies before [his capture] and after [he escaped]."

But Prince George's County was not notified of his arrest on Jan. 11.

Employees said there have always been escapes from Oak Hill, but not of the magnitude of the last year. The said that mismanagement has caused a high rate of absenteeism among the work force.

Gerard Ferguson, director of research, planning and evaluation for the deputy mayor for children, youth and families, said the employees responsible for the escape have been disciplined.

But the Oak Hill employees said that administrators and managers have not been held responsible for their misconduct.

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