- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2009

During the 2007 holiday season, D.C. Council candidate Clark E. Ray and his partner checked a teenager out of the District’s youth detention facility for an overnight stay in their home. By the couple’s account, they fed him and gave him Christmas presents before returning him the next day to the juvenile jail.

That act, described by those close to the couple as an act of charity, has unexpectedly two years later prompted a police investigation into allegations that the couple solicited sex from the youth, and a civil lawsuit by the boy’s father that was sealed by a judge last week.

Mr. Ray, through his attorneys, strongly denies any wrongdoing and dismisses the lawsuit, which contains factual inconsistencies and numerous and obvious spelling and grammatical errors, as a “politically motivated stunt.”

It was filed by a father with a lengthy criminal record, according to court papers, and by a lawyer who has faced disciplinary actions, according to the D.C. Bar Association.

Whatever the outcome in court, the episode in 2007 — when Mr. Ray was the D.C. parks and recreation director — has invited a debate over the first-time candidate’s judgment as well as the city’s practice of releasing juvenile inmates for recreational outings with strangers.

D.C. corrections officials refuse to provide any information about the circumstances surrounding the boy’s release to Mr. Ray, including whether a social worker or a court reviewed or approved the one-night stay.

M. Kim Howard, president of the Maryland Correctional Law Enforcement Union, said that while government officials have the discretion to release youths from detention facilities after the proper review process, the practice is fraught with dangers.

“These kids are unstable. They can be manipulated and they can be manipulative,” she said. “You can set yourself up for trouble later.”

The episode came to light in the past month after Mr. Ray announced his candidacy for D.C. Council. But it already has raised questions about political favoritism at an early stage in his campaign.

“I have great respect for those who act as big brothers and sisters for kids from troubled backgrounds. But there are a different set of rules for individuals who hold government positions, and particularly positions that bring you into contact with children,” former D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson told The Washington Times.

“Government officials — elected or appointed — have a responsibility to be circumspect and to not overstep their role or abuse their power,” she said. “Questions of judgment come into play when you make [decisions] about what you can and cannot do as a public servant.”

The lawsuit was filed on Sept. 14, two days after Mr. Ray launched his campaign. The lawsuit filed by the boy’s father also names Mr. Ray’s partner, Aubrey Dubra, and Mary Phillips, special assistant to the director of the District’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), Vincent Schiraldi. The lawsuit identifies Ms. Phillips as a friend of the couple’s who introduced them to the boy. Mr. Schiraldi is named as a defendant in an amended lawsuit filed Oct. 9.

In court papers, an attorney for Ms. Phillips contends there is reason to think the youth has been manipulated into bringing “false charges,” and complains that the youth’s father has “a long history of criminal and domestic-violence charges.”

The boy who is the subject of the lawsuit, now 18, remains a ward of DYRS, according to the lawsuit. He resides in a facility outside the city, according to news accounts, and could not be located for comment. The Times does not name victims of purported sexual molestation unless it is clear they have given their consent.

On Oct. 13, Superior Court Judge Albert S. Irving Jr. ordered the lawsuit sealed, “in the best interest” of the teenager. A scheduling conference is set for Jan. 8.

DYRS has refused to verify basic information about the evening in question and about the agency’s procedures for checking youths out of detention.

Ms. Howard, who spoke generally about procedures at youth detention facilities, questioned why a public official was allowed to check a child out of a detention facility where Mr. Ray’s friend worked as the special assistant to the agency director.

“You gotta know where to draw the line. It could be perceived as a conflict of interest,” she said. “Other kids may want the same treatment. You risk making this a special case. I mean, how many other kids had nowhere to go for the holidays?”

A Ray campaign spokesman said Mr. Ray and Mr. Dubra, an openly gay couple, wanted to treat a youth in difficult circumstances to a special Christmas in 2007. Ms. Phillips invited the boy, who was 16 at the time, to have lunch with the couple and another DYRS employee, according to the lawsuit.

On Christmas Eve, Mr. Ray and his partner signed the boy out of the Oak Hill Youth Center and brought him to their home in Northwest Washington, where he spent the night.

On Christmas morning, the boy opened presents, including a pair of Nike sneakers and a Washington Wizards jersey, before being returned to the detention facility, the campaign spokesman said.

More than a year passed before the matter resurfaced.

In the meantime, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty fired Mr. Ray from his job at Parks and Recreation, citing the need for the agency to “shift gears and go to the next level.”

Mr. Ray, who reportedly handled the April 2009 firing graciously and declined another job offered to him in the Fenty administration, became the subject of a draft movement for D.C. Council. Political observers think he is a credible challenger in the 2010 election against incumbent at-large Democrat Phil Mendelson.

But soon after Mr. Ray announced his candidacy, the boy’s father, 41-year-old Kenneth Agee, filed a 31-page complaint in Superior Court on his son’s behalf, charging sexual abuse and solicitation.

Mr. Agee, who in the lawsuit claims he never consented to the boy’s release from Oak Hill, is demanding $20 million in damages. The lawsuit charges that Mr. Ray and his partner sexually enticed the teen in their home and gave him gifts — and $100 in cash — for his silence.

It does not charge that the couple had sexual contact with the boy.

However, Mr. Agee charges in the lawsuit that Ms. Phillips molested the boy multiple times from the fall of 2007 to May this year, and that a corrections officer reported the inappropriate sexual behavior to the youth detention agency in November 2007, but no corrective action was taken. The lawsuit charges that employees were terminated for reporting the suspected misconduct.

Ms. Phillips declined to comment on the case. Curt S. Hansen, her attorney, confirmed that his client introduced the boy to Mr. Ray in 2007, but denied the charges in the lawsuit. He said he is eager “to reveal the truth and the lies in all of this.”

On Wednesday, former D.C. Attorney General Robert J. Spagnoletti and Vincent H. Cohen Jr., attorneys for Mr. Ray and Mr. Dubra, issued a joint statement on their behalf:

“The lawsuit is frivolous. The complaint is fraught with errors. Mr. Ray and Mr. Dubra vehemently deny any wrongdoing regarding the claim in the complaint that relates to them.

“It is evident, by the drafting and timing of the filing of the complaint, that this is a politically motivated stunt that has no basis in reality or law,” the statement said.

Mr. Ray’s attorneys referred requests for documentation about the procedures they followed to sign the boy out of Oak Hill to the detention agency.

DYRS declined to comment about the case — citing the agency’s practice of keeping information about their inmates and personnel matters confidential. Agency spokesman Reggie Sanders directed a request for public records about general procedures for the release of youths to the agency’s Freedom of Information Act officer.

D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said a police investigation into the matter was put on hold when Mr. Agee declined to answer questions. Calling the lawsuit “outrageous,” Mr. Nickles said, “I don’t recall seeing anything like this in all my years of law practice.”

In a recent televised interview with WTTG-TV (Channel 5), which first reported the allegations, Mr. Agee, who also has accused Ms. Phillips of threatening the youth, said the charges should be made public so that the D.C. government can be held accountable.

Yet Mr. Agee and his attorney are shying away from questions.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss the case,” said D.C. attorney Harry T. Spikes, who filed the lawsuit. “People’s reputations are involved.”

Asked about the D.C. attorney general’s assertion that his client declined to cooperate with a police investigation, Mr. Spikes replied, “I know nothing about anyone refusing to answer questions. My position is, you cooperate with that.”

According to court records posted on the D.C. Bar Web site, the D.C. Court of Appeals suspended Mr. Spikes in 2005 for 30 days for filing a baseless defamation claim against his opposing counsel, who had accused him of attempting to influence a witness in a civil lawsuit. D.C. Bar records also state that Mr. Spikes was “informally admonished” in 1995 for falsely claiming that he was assaulted by an adversary. Mr. Spikes did not respond to questions about his bar record.

According to court records, Mr. Agee pleaded guilty to assault with a knife in 1997 and distribution of marijuana in 2000. On June 3, court records state, he was charged with enticing a male police officer for a lewd purpose.

Mr. Agee was reluctant to discuss the lawsuit he has filed on behalf of his son.

“Hey, my man, I’m kind of busy,” he said when reached by telephone. During a second phone call, Mr. Agee became agitated when asked questions about his own court record.

“What does anything I’ve done in my life have to do with my son?” Mr. Agee protested before demanding that The Times stop calling him.

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