Youth free from jail, not from memories 15-year-old was held with adult inmates

November 02, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Three days in, an inmate threw urine on him. Four months in, someone stabbed him in the back. He never reported the injury, he says, because he had been warned: No matter how young you are, no matter what happens, shut your mouth and keep your head down.

Phillip Eugene Moore is 15 years old. He is in the eighth grade. This week, he spoke publicly for the first time about how he spent his summer vacation -- April through October, in fact -- living with adult inmates in the Baltimore City Detention Center.

Moore was never convicted. In April, prosecutors charged him with raping and assaulting a prostitute -- a woman twice his age, 6 inches taller and 50 pounds heavier. He was released last month after DNA tests failed to link him to the crime.

"The worst part of being in there was knowing that it was somebody else's fault," says Phillip, who returned to his city school a week ago Monday. "You know that the police [and prosecutors] are just doing their job, but it didn't seem right like that."

Phillip was awaiting trial in the adult jail because Maryland law allows juveniles as young as 14 to be incarcerated as adults if charged with violent felonies. In the city's adult Detention Center, he was one of about 150 youths.

Because of the DNA evidence, prosecutors dropped the charges against Phillip and let him go. They have blamed the police for losing other evidence they might have used to make a case against him and have not apologized.

That attitude, to Phillip's mind, is part of an ugly pattern. Since he was arrested in April, authorities have tried to portray him as a monster, he says. Court papers charged the suspect with grabbing the woman from behind, dragging her 40 feet down an alley and throwing her down a flight of stairs. The subsequent beating and rape left the woman with a broken neck.

Phillip is disarming. He is short and unimposing, with a soft voice and a crooked smile. He wears worn sneakers, blue jeans and a white-and-blue shirt. He says he does not lift weights, but he is powerfully built.

The fateful night

Phillip says that on April 17, the Wednesday night that the woman was attacked, he went to a cousin's birthday party. Afterward, he says, he stayed up at a friend's house and played a video football game. After 4 a.m., Phillip says, the friend gave him a ride to a corner near Phillip's house and he was detained by a patrol officer about six blocks from the scene of the rape while he was walking home.

He says he spent three days in a cell at the Northwestern District, in shock after hearing the charge. "I kept thinking, 'What am I doing in here?' " Phillip says. "And the police just kept telling me, 'You did it. You did it.' "

He arrived in the L section of the Detention Center at 11 one morning. Other youths were there, but he didn't talk much, except for a few conversations with a 17-year-old from Westport. He spent as much time as he could sleeping and trying not to think about time.

"You just stay in there and mind your own business," he says.

Phillip says he is reluctant to talk about the attacks in jail. There was the urine incident and the stabbing, just under his left shoulder blade. But the stabbing was crude and drew only a little blood. Reporting the incident, he figured, would do little good.

"You don't run your mouth to someone who locks you up and puts you in there," he said. "They are not your friends."

Phillip says that he, like his mother, carries his anger quietly. And the time he spent in jail has helped him, he says.

Going through 'phases'

Born on Aug. 3, 1981, Phillip has been raised by his mother, who moved four times while he was in elementary school. He was quiet and spent his free time playing pickup football. He did well in school until the seventh grade, which he had to repeat.

"I knew too many people at that school" to hang around with, says Phillip, who has since left the school. "I was going through some phases."

His mother has attributed the change to the 1992 shooting death of his older brother, Chris Johnson, then 21. Phillip declines to talk about the shooting but acknowledges spending less time at home and getting into trouble in school. Phillip and his lawyer will not say whether the teen-ager has a juvenile criminal record.

In the Detention Center, Phillip says, "I thought a lot about maybe how I could change my ways." Asked what he means, he says, "I used to act obnoxious. You couldn't tell me nothing."

Two weeks ago, Phillip's older brother, Ronnie, picked him up at the Detention Center. They drove home, where Phillip has spent most of his free time lately talking with his brothers or his mother.

In his new school, few people know him, and if any students or teachers are aware of his time in the Detention Center, they haven't brought it up. He is enjoying his English class and his math teacher, and he recalls with admiration a lesson on the esophagus in science class last week.

He has no thoughts of a career. A Dallas Cowboys fan, Phillip says his only goals for the future are to play football in high school, and maybe college. He sees himself as a fullback, despite his lack of height and speed. "All you need is power and catching ability," he says.

Lawsuit considered

Phillip's relatives have talked about filing a civil suit against the city, but their plans are uncertain. The police aren't talking about the case, and there is no word of any other suspect.

"Nobody cared about his rights," says Kenneth Williams, who was Phillip's criminal lawyer. "Nobody dealt with what was happening to him. Nobody cared about him at all until the DNA came back negative."

His time in jail is not something Phillip likes to talk about. He says he is moving on, focusing only on football and school.

"My mom used to tell me to stay to myself, to stay out of trouble," Phillip says. "Now I'm just finally listening."

Pub Date: 11/02/96

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