by Monte McCoin
Carlton O. Harris, a 28-year-old journeyman roofer, was mistakenly held at the District of Columbia’s jail for 77 days without a chance to see a judge or be appointed a defense attorney after a misdemeanor charge against him was dropped. Harris, a father of two, feared retaliation from guards if he complained about the lack of due process.
“I know I had a right to a lawyer,” he said, “but when you’re in their custody, it’s out of your control. You kind of got to sit back and let them do their job. You speak up, they can go real bad. They can put you in a room, cuff you and beat you down. You can speak up, but it turns out you’re going to have to shut up.”
Harris had voyaged into a jail bureaucracy that has already cost D.C. taxpayers more than $18 million in lawsuit settlements since 2005. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.32; Oct. 2006, p.29]. His ordeal began with his March 28, 2017 arrest following a dispute at his home; prosecutors dropped the case the next day, but Harris was returned to the jail to await extradition to Maryland on a 2013 federal traffic warrant. U.S. Marshals never arrived to transport Harris to face the charges because they were told he was being held on a pending D.C. case – so he remained in jail. His plight was brought to the court’s attention only after a fellow prisoner told his own attorney about the situation. Harris was finally released on June 15, 2017.
In a statement, Lamont J. Ruffin, acting chief deputy U.S. Marshal, said, “This was an unfortunate set of circumstances for Mr. Harris, but after a thorough review of our processes specific to this situation, the U.S. Marshals Service was not negligent and did not cause this apparent overdetention.” An anonymous law enforcement official told the Washington Post it was “a clerical error by the D.C. Department of Corrections.”
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