City Desk

DYRS Report: Another Peter Nickles Hatchet Job?

Updated 10:10 p.m.

Has Peter Nickles ever met a controversy he couldn't whitewash with one of his so-called investigative reports? From his fire-truck mini investigation to his assessment of the missing evidence in the Pershing Park case, Nickles has developed a reputation as a bulldog whose afraid to do much more than bark. Now comes WaPo's Mike DeBonis' fine reporting on Nickles' latest fact-finding mission. This time Nickles promised an exhaustive accounting of the failures at DYRS. DeBonis discovered that the investigation had been headed up by Nickles' deputy Robert Hildum–the man who has now taken over DYRS. [Hildum also  ruined two fire fighters' careers with a few lies]. Talk about a conflict of interest. But it gets worse. The report itself may have been riddled with problems:

DeBonis writes:

"The report I've obtained [PDF], dated May 20, is not so much an investigative report with findings, but a six-page memo that makes 'general observations' about the city's youth justice apparatus before delivering more than a dozen recommendations. It's entirely possible that a more detailed report has been completed in the meantime, but DYRS officials raised serious questions about the inquiry in an undated response [PDF] to the May 20 document. For instance: Because the OAG staffers tasked with investigating the agency didn't know how to use the DYRS computer system, the report based some of its recommendations on mistaken findings."

And to think WaPo's editorial board slammed critics of DYRS latest personnel moves as being too hasty! DYRS has become a huge problem, one that warranted more than a six page memo, and quick knee-jerk praise from WaPo's editorial board. At the very least, Councilmember Tommy Wells, whose committee deals with DYRS issues, tells City Desk that the Nickles Report could be a distraction in the city's efforts to reform DYRS and get the agency out of federal court oversight.

But Wells says he hasn't even seen "an official" copy of the report.

"I got a report from the Examiner," Wells says. "I have not gotten an official report even though I asked for it. There does seem like there was this tension between prosecutors and DYRS and Peter Nickles won. It does seem like the report started off with a conclusion."

Wells continues: "This [case] seemed closest to getting out from under the class-action lawsuit...I think the report is a distraction from the bigger picture....I've had concerns about DYRS, but what I need is good evidence, good data. This appears to have been a dispute between two government agencies and the bigger one won. We just need to be sure they don't mess up the [reforms]."

Plaintiffs in the Jerry M. case could make the report, and the installation of Hildum to head DYRS, an issue in court. The plaintiffs in the CFSA federal oversight case successfully argued that they hadn't been consulted when Mayor Adrian Fenty and Co. hired Roque Gerald to head that troubled agency. A judge had required that the plaintiffs be consulted on that hiring. The judge in the CFSA case eventually held Fenty in contempt of court.

Update: DeBonis posted an update this afternoon. Nickles denied Hildum's lead role  in the DYRS investigation. Still, Nickles does not deny that Hildum was involved. He just didn't play the lead role. A copy of a longer more involved report [PDF] revealed a more in-depth analysis of the issues surrounding the troubled agency (if you discount the first two pages of fluff).

Liz Ryan of the Campaign For Youth Justice sent out a press release condemning the OAG's research methods and the OAG's apparent conflict of interest:

“It cannot be ignored that, OAG is investigating how youth offenders are treated, and at the same time, has the authority to prosecute those offenders,” said Daniel Okonkwo, Executive Director of D.C. Lawyers for
Youth. “We ask that the DC Council hold immediate hearings on how this report was done and ask credible academics to comment on what appears to be a shoddy piece of 'research' that has resulted in a major decision being made about a City Department.”

Campaign for Youth Justice also highlights discrepancies in juvenile arrest statistics:

"The OAG said juvenile crime is increasing. The latest figures from the Metropolitan Police Department show that, in absolute terms, juvenile arrests are down -2 percent, compared with the first six months of 2009. Overall, juvenile index (serious) crime has declined slightly over the past five years.  Index crime is the primary indicator reported by the FBI, but OAG’s report carefully avoided reporting overall index crime data in its 'analysis.'"

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  • Manor

    Something tells me we're in for another decade of DYRS mismanagement...

  • Truth Hurts

    Yes, Gray will run DYRS much like he ran DHHS: very poorly.

  • Jason Cherkis

    Instead of guessing what Gray would do, how about telling us what you think about the Nickles Report? I would find that very interesting.

  • WCP Reader

    Sorry, fools --

    Everyone knows DYRS is broken. All you gotta do to understand that is (i) read Colbert King; and (ii) pay attention to the bodies piling up.

    Thank goodness the old DYRS "coddle the criminal" leadership is going to be replaced with people who -- for a change -- see protecting the rest of us as a priority.

  • One more thing

    Check the Update to the Washington Post story. The final report doesn't seem to have had Hildum's significant involvement, and it's much more detailed and better reasoned. WCP can start working on a different conspiracy theory for a change.

  • DCresident

    Jason--thank you for this important coverage. Unlike the Post editorial board, you have shown you are independent and not afraid to report the facts. Peter Nickles is out of control, and unfortunately this time his efforts have threatened the demise of one of the most promising reforms in the country.

    I see that in the report Nickles refers to being former lead counsel in Jerry M. Now that he's advocating to lock up more kids, isn't that an unethical conflict of interest on his part?

  • Jason Cherkis

    It's unclear what role Hildum played in the final report. I'm not so sure I can count on Nickles to tell the truth. One thing is clear, Nickles and Co. handed out versions of the report piecemeal to everyone but the man charged with oversight over DYRS: Councilmember Tommy Wells.

    I'm not a process guy. But doesn't it seem like Wells should have least been given a copy of the report after he requested it???

  • IMGoph

    are you going to update this story like debonis has?

  • Give me a break

    Hey "One more thing": why do you say that Hildum wasn't involved? Because Peter Nickles says so? Give me a break. From what I see, Hildum wrote the initial memo, which is essentially the same report.

  • Jason Cherkis

    Post is updated! Sorry about the delay, IMGoph. I was watching Top Chef. Now, update includes statements from Campaign for Youth Justice.

  • downtown rez

    A careful reading of Jason's work at CP will reveal something more than a healthy skepticism when it comes to authority, and something other than a straight "just the facts" approach to reporting.
    To take a momentary (and convenient) example, consider "Hatchet" in title of the current piece, and "whitewash" in the lead. Why would he use those loaded terms unless, even before his first paragraph has begun, he's presenting his (editorial) conclusions? That's not exactly the language or way of neutral just-the-facts reporting, is it? Nope, but it is typical for Jason. Jason's "news" is almost always "more" than news. And by that I mean if falls under the "more" category of CP's City Desk "News, Politics, Media and More".
    Jason- Not to go all cliche on you, but sometimes "more" is less. This seems especially so when you let your reflexive mistrust of government get ahead of the facts you have on hand.

  • Jason Cherkis

    Downtown Rez: I think the early DeBonis post which I riffed on was more than enough evidence to include "whitewash" and "hatchet" up top. A six page memo with conclusion at top. Add to it Wells' quotes and Nickles' history of whitewashed investigations (I cite his lame firetruck report and his silly affidavit in the Pershing Park matter) and well, there you go....

    But rest assured, Downtown Rez, WaPo's Editorial Board has your back.

  • Political Observer

    Firstly, Wells doesn't need Nickles' report. Hello, DC Council has oversight authority and investigative ability. Wells can schedule a series of oversight hearings in addition to partnering with Mendelson since there is overlap with the Judiciary Committee. PLEASE STOP LETTING THE COUNCIL OFF THE HOOK!

    Secondly, these bleeding hearts need to come to the neighborhoods where we contend with kiddie car thieves, brazen armed robberies, and the results of revolving doors of detention centers and group homes. The revolting case in MD of a 14-year old detainee allegedly raping and killing a teacher is astonishing. There is a place for rehabilitation. However, punishment plays a role.

  • downtown rez

    I can't help you with your wp editorial board envy. You'll need to sort that one out on your own.
    But here's some free advice: Your article cites MDB's reporting. MDB has excellent fact-finding skills, which are highlighted and enhanced by the careful and neutral tone of his writing.
    Alternately, you can continue to indulge your inner advocate, just don't expect people to think of you first as a reporter.
    Sincere best wishes,

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    Drez- he's a better reporter than most at WAPO. I appreciate his style and his opinions. I can only imagine the "unbiased" pieces you will write about Gray.

    I really don't know how an intelligent person can not formulate an opinion when looking at the facts surrounding the numerous misdealings of Fenty and Nickles. You yourself have never been able to defend any of it. You simply avoid the topic and try hash out another issue altogether. Obviously you're smart enough to see their bullshit and not defend it.

  • DCDem

    ABM: You are right. Fenty is his Jesus and Ron Moten agrees.

  • downtown rez

    You are right- I don't opine on matters I have no direct knowledge of.
    And if you re-read my criticism, you'll see that offering opinion in lieu of information is exactly what I called out Jason for doing.
    So I guess we agree?

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    But Drez, you never offer facts either. Everything you comment on is always slanted opinion. At least Cherkis has the facts to work off of. You seem to pull yours from your ass.

  • downtown rez

    But, ABM, I'm not a journalist- I'm not a reporter. Nor do I conveniently pretend to be when it suits my needs. Nor am I a media/spin person. No one is paying me to deliver news, let alone opinion disguised as news. At the end of the day, I'm just a knowledgeable and engaged long time DC resident who trying to do what's best for my family, my friends, and my city.
    Didn't anyone ever tell you, ABM? Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one, and they all stink.

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  • Jason

    If we want to fix problems in DC, there needs to be real discourse about the role of the justice system as it relates to social services in the District. This post on is a good conversation starter: