The disinformation age? Crownsville escapee: Hospital officials lacked the full background on carjack suspect.

November 24, 1997

WE SUPPOSEDLY LIVE in the information age. You can turn on the latest news at an eyeblink. You can go on-line and read a document from halfway around the globe. Yet doctors at Crownsville Hospital Center weren't fully aware that individual referred to them for a psychiatric evaluation, Shwan A. Chowanetz, was a dangerous man.

Thus, he was able to escape from the relatively insecure state hospital and nearly carjacked an elderly motorist's vehicle before police shot and wounded him. The case is troubling in light of a recent rash of mistaken releases of inmates from the penal system.

On Nov. 1, Mr. Chowanetz is alleged to have used a gun to hijack a car at Elkridge Corners Shopping Center in Howard County. The next day, an Anne Arundel County police officer spotted him speeding. After a wild chase and a car crash, Chowanetz was arrested and charged with numerous offenses, including driving a stolen car, fleeing police and driving while intoxicated. He was brought to District Court for a bail review hearing. His bond -- $125,000 -- was continued. He was referred to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for a more detailed evaluation to ascertain if he was competent to stand trial.

The problem arose at this juncture: As far as health officials knew, he was facing mostly misdemeanor charges. They sent him to Crownsville, where he subsequently escaped Nov. 11. Days later, he allegedly robbed a man in Glen Burnie, stole a car and led police on another chase before being shot and captured.

Crownsville officials knew of his sordid history of arrests and convictions. They were unaware of the felony charges filed in Howard, which hadn't issued an arrest warrant for him. Had Anne Arundel officials been aware of the Howard charges, Mr. Chowanetz likely would have been sent to the secure Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center for criminals.

With computers and instantaneous communications, there must be a better method for making all the outstanding charges against a person available to anyone in the system. Without the proper information, people can't make informed decisions. That especially goes for officials entrusted with processing those suspected or convicted of committing a crime.

Pub Date: 11/24/97

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