Dawsons weren't protected, official says

But Jessamy says family declined relocation by her office after earlier arson

March 11, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The former witness protection officer for the Baltimore state's attorney's office contended yesterday that the office failed to do all it could to protect the Dawsons, the family of seven who police said were killed in a retaliatory arson last year in East Baltimore.

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy called the allegations untrue, saying the Dawsons declined to be relocated by her office -- an offer made after an earlier attempt on the family's lives.

The Dawsons were killed in an October house fire that police believe was set because the family complained to authorities about drug dealing in their Oliver neighborhood.

A neighbor, Darrell Brooks, 21, is scheduled to stand trial in September in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in connection with the killings.

The fatal arson Oct. 16 was the second time the Dawsons' house was set on fire, and the culmination of a series of harassments and assaults against the family by neighborhood drug dealers. The Dawsons' home had been firebombed Oct. 3 but the family escaped injury.

DiTanya Madden, who quit her job in January after seven years as the witness security coordinator for the state's attorney's office, said during a news conference that Angela and Carnell Dawson -- the mother and father in the household that included five children -- were never referred to her unit for protection.

"I'm a specialist in that field, and it never came by my desk," said Madden, who was a police officer for 12 years. "If [Angela Dawson] had come to me, I can guarantee I would have gotten her to take some protection."

Madden's lawyer, Julie R. Rubin, said she is considering filing a lawsuit on behalf of Madden. The lawyer declined to specify on what grounds.

Attorneys in Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.'s firm have said they are also considering suing the city on behalf of surviving members of the Dawson family.

On the morning after the fatal fire, Madden sent an e-mail to her supervisors, including Jessamy, saying that her unit had had no interaction with the Dawsons.

"It's unfortunate, to say the least," wrote Madden, who was the only person who worked in the unit. "Perhaps if they were referred, they would still be alive."

The reason the family was not referred to Madden is that the Dawsons did not want to move from their home, according to Assistant State's Attorney Kate Moxley. She had dealt with the family when they were being harassed and assaulted by neighborhood drug dealers.

Moxley said she offered the Dawsons relocation assistance after the first time their home was set on fire in October.

"I asked if they would be interested in witness protection and told them it would entail being relocated, and they said they would not be interested," Moxley said.

Because the Dawsons declined, Moxley said, she did not fill out an application form to get them into the witness protection program.

Handwritten notes in Moxley's files document that she offered the assistance and the Dawsons refused. Moxley also consulted with her supervisor Roberta Siskind about the matter.

Madden, who left her job because she was upset with the way her unit was handled by the state's attorney's office -- including being understaffed -- said that she should have been notified the first time the house was firebombed.

"I would have told them, `I know you like where you live but it's not worth dying for,'" Madden said.

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