Justice system failed, chief says

Suspect in killing in Oakland Mills focus of meeting


January 31, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF


An article published yesterday in the Howard County edition of The Sun should have stated more clearly that there is an average of five to seven homicides every year in Howard County, not just in the Columbia village of Oakland Mills.

Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay said the criminal justice system failed in the case of Tavon Donya Sands, a Columbia man who was arrested three times while on probation but allowed to go free on bond until this week, when he was charged with the murder of a man in Oakland Mills.

"You were let down," Livesay told a group of about 50 Oakland Mills residents last night. "This guy should not have been let out on the street."

Sands, 20, was charged Tuesday with 23 counts - ranging from first-degree murder to reckless endangerment - in the shooting death of Deshawn Anthony Wallace, 23. Wallace was killed about 8 p.m. Friday on the parking lot of the Stevens Forest apartment complex in the 5800 block of Stevens Forest Road.

Sands is being held without bail.

Police said they were looking for at least two other suspects in the killing, which they said was a robbery attempt and described as a random "crime of opportunity."

Oakland Mills residents who gathered at The Other Barn, in the village center not far from the murder scene, said they were angered by reports of Sands' long criminal record and short stints in jail.

"You look at the long list - I was just appalled," said Werner Gruhl, 69. "Somebody obviously as dangerous as this should have had some sort of incarceration or help to help him and protect society."

Howard County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray echoed the outrage.

"It does not make any sense why this person was walking the streets," he said.

Sands has a criminal history dating to when he was 13 years old, when he was charged with attempted first-degree murder in Baltimore. The state dropped that case because of his age, court records indicate.

Lara C. Weathersbee, an assistant state's attorney for Howard County, laid out some of the more recent charges against Sands for the crowd and suggested that the system had not been as easy on him as residents seemed to think.

In 1998, when he was 16, Sands was prosecuted as an adult for felony car theft, she said. He was convicted and spent 187 days in jail.

"That is harsh treatment for a 16- or 17-year-old man, I will say," Weathersbee said.

In 1999, she said, Sands was convicted of second-degree assault. Prosecutors sought the maximum punishment - 10 years. He received eight, with all but three suspended. It was not clear how much time Sands served, but he remains on probation for that offense.

While on probation, Weathersbee said, Sands was arrested three times: In May, he was arrested on charges of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and a handgun offense; in September, having a handgun in a vehicle; and in October, robbery with a deadly weapon.

Weathersbee stressed last night that Sands is considered innocent of those charges until proven guilty. Often, when a probationer is accused of a new offense, a judge will not revoke probation until the accused has been convicted, she said.

In two of those cases, judges set a high bond - $50,000, requiring someone to put up $5,000 cash in both cases to free him, she noted. She said that amount is "nothing to sneeze at."

"I am surprised he was able to post bond of that magnitude," she said.

Livesay agreed. "That surprised me," he said. "Somebody spent an awful lot of money to bail him out of jail."

Just four days before the shooting, someone bailed out Sands on the October charge.

Livesay stressed that Oakland Mills, like all of Howard County, remains a relatively safe place to live, with about five to seven homicides a year. He said the crime rate was lower in the 1990s than it was in the 1980s, and that currently, it is less than it was in 1975, when the county was far smaller.

Yet Livesay expressed some of the same frustrations as residents in noting that his officers had arrested Sands time and again but continued to see him out on the street. He said they arrested Sands in early 2000 on an attempted murder charge but that he was never prosecuted.

Weathersbee noted that the case was not closed, but prosecutors do not have enough evidence to bring it to court.

"The standards for arrest and for prosecution are different," she said. "Victims can be uncooperative. If at all possible, we will prosecute."

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