Murder charge against DC man dropped after surveillance video comes under scrutiny

A D.C. man charged with second-degree murder in an October shooting spent nearly two weeks in jail before his defense team uncovered errors in a police report, as well as surveillance videos showing someone else pulled the trigger.

Lamar Hicks, 24, was released from jail Oct. 24 after his lawyer and a defense investigator rushed their findings to prosecutors, who decided to dismiss the charge.

But Hicks’ lawyer, John Fowler, a supervising attorney with the District Public Defender Service, said clearing their client’s name will be harder than clearing his record.

“I feel really terrible because when he applies for jobs or anything else that he wants to do in life, this will be one of the first results that comes back,” Fowler said of news coverage about Hicks’ arrest last month. WTOP was one of the news outlets that reported Hicks’ arrest.

“It’ll be nice if there are articles that accompany it saying, ‘falsely accused,’ ‘innocent man,’ ‘wrongly accused,'” Fowler told WTOP in an interview. “But, he’s essentially always going to have to have an article in his back pocket that is the ‘wrongly accused,’ or ‘falsely accused,’ article. That is sad to me because it will follow him his entire life.”

The Washington Post first reported the dropped charge.

Hicks, who lives in Southeast D.C., was arrested Oct. 11, just hours after 30-year-old Jonathan Jones was gunned down in the 1900 block of 16th Street Southeast as he stood outside his Chevy to check a tire after hitting a curb.

In court documents, police said several surveillance videos from nearby businesses captured a man wearing a white shirt, black pants and a distinctive black bag strung across his chest, walking in the neighborhood before the shooting. Police said another video showed the same man approaching Jones in the street right before the shooting.

A still from a surveillance camera showing Lamar Hicks walking near the area of the shooting. (Courtesy D.C. Public Defender)

After he was arrested, Hicks told police it was him wearing the white shirt, black pants and the distinctive bag on his chest. He said he was walking in the area of 16th Street and Good Hope Road to get a pack of cigarettes. But he adamantly denied having anything to do with the shooting.

Hicks, who had no previous criminal record except for a 2018 arrest for not paying a Metro fare, was charged with second-degree murder while armed, and ordered held without bond in D.C. jail.

It was several days later when Fowler said an investigator who works at the public defender’s office, named Ellie Olsen, began poring over the surveillance videos and found something didn’t match what police had written in their affidavit.

The suspect seen at the time of the shooting was wearing a white shirt and black pants like Hicks, but he was taller and had a bigger build — and he wasn’t wearing the distinctive bag Hick was wearing across his chest.

The police affidavit “is an inaccurate description of what the video shows,” Fowler told WTOP. “The person who they claim is the shooter does not have a bag, and yet the description of the video says the shooter has a bag. That was the moment when I started getting pretty uncomfortable about what was happening.”

A still from a surveillance camera showing the man police said shot Jonathan Jones. Attorney John Fowler said the suspect is wearing a similar outfit as Lamar Hicks, but is taller, has a bigger build and wasn’t wearing a distinctive bag across his chest. (Courtesy D.C. Public Defender)

Fowler said watching the video over and over again was “stomach-wrenching.” He said it was “obvious” police had the wrong guy. But Hicks’ first court date was still nearly a week away.

Worried an innocent man was sitting in jail, he reached out to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for an emergency meeting. The defense team met at the prosecutors office with attorney Shehzad Akhtar; his supervisor, Laura Bach; as well as Chanel Howard, the detective on the case.

That’s when Olsen, the investigator, played the video.

“And she zoomed in on different portions and played it again, and again, and again, and explained how the shooter could not possibly be Mr. Hicks,” Fowler said.

Bach, a veteran homicide prosecutor, signed the order a few hours later, dismissing the charge against Hicks. He was released later that night — after spending 13 days in jail.

Kadia Koroma, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C., said in a statement that the “additional information” brought to prosecutors by Hicks’ defense team “undercut probable cause” to charge him.

Her statement said Hicks’ case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning prosecutors could bring new charges if they find any new evidence.

D.C. police have not returned WTOP’s request for an explanation as to why Hicks was charged in the first place.

Fowler said there were other parts of the police report that troubled him.

“That document was probably the first time that I wondered whether something strange was going on,” he said. In the report, the detective characterized Hicks’ demeanor during police questioning as “freakishly calm.”

“It rubbed me the wrong way that the detective was describing it in that way as an effort to make Mr. Hicks seem guilty,” Fowler said, calling it a “red flag.”

He added, “What he said in that police report, that the prosecutor had on day one, was him saying very clearly, ‘I did not do this. I did not kill anybody. I was not involved in anything like that.'”

Fowler praised his colleague Olsen, who scrutinized the surveillance video, and said the D.C. Public Defender Service is more well-resourced than many other public defender offices around the country.

“Had (Hicks) had an attorney at a public defender office like a lot of places where there’s one investigator for every 10 attorneys, I don’t know what would have happened, and I don’t know how long he would’ve sat. And I don’t know when, or if, the police and the prosecutors would have realized what had happened,” Fowler said. “So, all of that is terrifying.”

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