WASHINGTON — DC Councilmember Brooke Pinto says a WUSA9 investigation into the District’s handling of a repeat sexual offender in Mount Pleasant exposed holes in the city’s justice system that must be closed. As the chairwoman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, Pinto said she intends to address the "gaps in the legal system."
“Harassment and the sex crimes as detailed in this reporting, including indecent exposure in front of children, are unacceptable," Pinto wrote in a statement to WUSA9. “Not only must we have accountability for this type of behavior, but people who are a threat to their community must not be allowed to continue harassing neighbors.”
Pinto issued the statement in response to WUSA9’s chronicling of the saga of 54-year-old Derrick Jones.
On April 13, Jones found himself in a familiar situation: being handcuffed by DC Police as he was charged with sexually abusing 5-year-old girl by allegedly exposing himself and committing lewd, indecent, and obscene acts in front of her. Judy Clayton, part of a group of Mount Pleasant neighbors who had been reporting Jones' alleged actions to MPD, looked on with tears in her eyes.
“Because this has been 3.5 years of trying to get this man off the street,” Clayton explained.
DC Police first arrested Jones for exposing himself in 2018. In that case, he was accused of committing sex acts in front of four children, ages 11-14, at a DC Public Library.
D.C.'s 122-year-old criminal code classifies, lewd, indecent, or obscene acts as a misdemeanor, and prohibits judges from detaining defendants on misdemeanor charges alone.
So, Jones was released. Then, he never showed up for court.
In 2021 Jones was arrested again. This time his charges were for exposing himself and committing lewd acts on the Metro at the Columbia Heights station. A judge found Jones guilty, but suspended his 30-day prison sentence and put him on supervised probation instead.
Jones returned to his Mount Pleasant neighborhood where neighbors tell WUSA9 he continued to repeatedly expose himself while committing lewd acts. So brazen neighbors recorded cell phone video of him doing it just steps away from Bancroft Elementary School.
“That schoolhouse has hundreds and hundreds of kids who come through here every Monday through Friday,” said Bob Davis, vice president of the tenant’s association in the apartment complex where Jones was living. "And every Monday through Friday he’s doing his thing. So, the parents are disgusted.”
DCPS said Bancroft Elementary principal Jessica Morales reported Jones to police too. Neighbors, including Kari Elwood, started sharing warnings and sightings of the sex offender on the message board Nextdoor.
“And many started changing the routes that they took and where they went,” Elwood said.
None of it stopped Jones.
In 2022, MPD detectives once again arrested him on the misdemeanor charge of committing lewd, indecent, or obscene acts. This time Jones was at a bus stop in Mount Pleasant.
“My children witnessing a man touching himself while he’s watching them is absolutely not a misdemeanor to me,” Elwood said.
Because Jones had violated the terms of his probation from his previous arrests, this time the judge was able to keep him in jail before trial. And Jones ultimately pled guilty.
But since committing lewd, indecent, and obscene acts can only be a misdemeanor according to DC Criminal Code, even for repeat offenders, the maximum the judge could give Jones was 90 days in jail.
Jones' attorney in his most recent case, Raymond R. Jones, said it’s not the length of the sentence that’s the problem here.
“What services are we providing?” Jones asked. “The recidivism? How are we stopping people from coming back [to jail] again? And we can say, 'well, let's lock them up, that's the key.' But the person has to get out. And we can't lock up a misdemeanor person for 25 years, right?”
Councilmember Pinto appeared to agree.
“As we continue to update and modernize our criminal code, it is vital that crimes like these with significant community impacts are treated with the appropriate seriousness” Pinto wrote to WUSA9. “It is also imperative that when people are held in DC Jail, we are providing them with the resources they need to not reoffend in the future.”
The judge tried to put Jones on supervised probation once he was released in March of this year, but couldn’t since she already sentenced him to the maximum amount of jail time allowed by law. Elwood said neighbors had one reaction when Jones returned to the area.
After Jones ignored a judge’s order to register with DC Police as a Class C Sex Offender, D.C.’s probation office wrote in a report to the courts that Jones “poses a risk to the community” and his “inappropriate deviant sexual behaviors...appears to be exacerbating.”
That’s what allegedly happened April 7 when Jones was arrested for threating to kill a couple living across the street after they caught him exposing himself. Jones was charged with two more counts of misdemeanor committing lewd, indecent, and obscene acts. He was once again processed and released by DC’s Justice System.
A spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office wrote in a statement to WUSA9:
Under D.C. law, there is a presumption that defendants will be released pending trial. Even when someone is on release and is charged with a new offense, unless that new charge is a violent or dangerous crime as defined by D.C. law, a defendant can only be detained briefly in the new case and cannot be detained until trial in the new case.
Back in his Mount Pleasant neighborhood, it took Derrick Jones 10 days to reoffend.
This time accused of committing lewd, indecent, and obscene acts in front of a 5-year-old girl and her father. He also threatened to blow up his building before being taken into custody.
“Our system fails,” Clayton said as she watched Jones be put into a MPD transport van. “It’s not protecting our children.”
Pinto said she wants to change that.
“As I continue to work on measures to reduce recidivism and ensure our returning citizens have been provided the social-emotional, employment, and other resources necessary for a smooth reentry, I am focused on solutions that ensure residents are not cycling in and out of DC Jail,” Pinto wrote.
The US Attorney’s Office said in court, more criminal charges are coming because more victims have now come forward.
When Jones is released from jail the judge barred him from ever returning to that block in Mount Pleasant next to Bancroft Elementary School.
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