Police arrested wrong guy in 6-year-old’s shooting

 Chelsea Outlaw (left) has been freed from prison after police dropped charges that he shot Jawhown Banner (right) in the head during a  June 6 drive-by shooting in Wilmington. (Photo at left, City of Wilmington. Photo at right, courtesy of Shaylynn Banner Hackett.)

Chelsea Outlaw (left) has been freed from prison after police dropped charges that he shot Jawhown Banner (right) in the head during a June 6 drive-by shooting in Wilmington. (Photo at left, City of Wilmington. Photo at right, courtesy of Shaylynn Banner Hackett.)

A man charged with shooting a 6-year-boy in the head during a drive-by shooting in Wilmington last week has been released, after police and prosecutors reviewed his alibi.

An eyewitness to the shooting had identified 41-year-old Chelsea Outlaw as the gunman from a photo provided by police.

But after nearly four days behind bars, Outlaw is now a free man  City authorities said officers “uncovered evidence” that showed he was not the man who committed the brazen afternoon drive-by shooting on June 6 at Sixth and Spruce streets.

The charges against Outlaw, who had been held on $2 million cash bond since his arrest Thursday, have been dismissed, according to a news release late Tuesday night from city police and Mayor Mike Purzycki. Outlaw had been charged with two counts of first-degree attempted murder, possession of a firearm by a person prohibited and other crimes.

The child, Jashown Banner, remains in critical condition, police said. The child was in a car with his mother, 2-year-old sister and grandmother. His mom, Shaylynn Banner Hackett, was injured by shattered glass or debris, although police erroneously said she had been shot in the arm within hours of the shooting.

Hackett told WHYY last week that a car cut in front of her white Ford Explorer at the intersection began firing at someone on the street that she didn’t see. Instead, her child was struck by a bullet in the face. She said “he died three times” at A. I. duPont Hospital for Children that night but each time doctors revived him. She said Friday that Jashown, who is known as “Lj”, has not regained consciousness but she remains hopeful he will recover, calling him “a fighter.” Hackett, who has been holding a vigil at his hospital bed, could not immediately be reached Wednesday.

The mistake with Outlaw’s arrest, made in conjunction with other local and federal authorities, comes as the city is once again reeling from record-setting violence early on in Purzycki’s first year in office and police chief Robert Tracy’s first months at the helm.

With three more shootings Tuesday night, 100 people have now been shot in Wilmington this year, including 20 fatally — on pace to obliterate the previous record of 154 shootings, set in 2013, and 27 homicides, set in 2010 and 2013. The carnage led Newsweek magazine to dub Wilmington “Murder Town USA” in a December 2014 article.

Monday night’s announcement by the city, made at 10 p.m., stood in stark contrast to the one Purzycki and Tracy made Friday afternoon, when they trumpeted Outlaw’s arrest and noted that the Minquadale-area man has an “extensive arrest record.”

City police, who have often decried the “don’t snitch” code that has prevented them from solving most of the shootings in recent years, thanked the community for assisting investigators.

Court records showed that an eyewitness had described the gunman as a brown-skinned, freckle-faced gunman with golden hair, the Wilmington News Journal reported. So police pulled a mugshot of Outlaw, put the picture in a photo lineup and showed it to the witness, who “positively identified Outlaw as the shooter,” records showed. 

But Tuesday, police dropped the charges and Outlaw was freed from prison after officers and prosecutors concluded they had the wrong guy. The late-night announcement did not offer explanation for the erroneous arrest beyond the fact that new evidence exonerated Outlaw. The release added that investigators have “developed new leads with other possible suspects” that are being pursued.

Asked late Tuesday how police could have made such a mistake, Purzycki’s spokesman John Rago texted WHYY to say Outlaw “was positively IDed by witness.” Rago would not elaborate Wednesday morning and ended the call when WHYY continued asking questions.

The city urges anyone with information to contact Det. Devon Jones at (302) 576-6206, submit information through the Delaware Crime Stoppers Tip-Line at 1 (800) TIP-3333. or text to NIXLE at 888777.  “Information leading to an arrest may result in a monetary reward,” the release said.

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