Wilmington mayor’s office blindsided by 2nd police arrest in 6-year-old’s shooting

 Authorities now say Michael Pritchett, 32, a convicted heroin trafficker, is the gunman whose errant shot struck 6-year-old Jashown Banner in Wilmington on June 6. (Left, police photo; right, courtesy of Banner family)

Authorities now say Michael Pritchett, 32, a convicted heroin trafficker, is the gunman whose errant shot struck 6-year-old Jashown Banner in Wilmington on June 6. (Left, police photo; right, courtesy of Banner family)

With great fanfare, police  arrested and then freed suspect in boy’s shooting. They never told the public a new suspect was in custody.

When the Wilmington police chief and mayor announced the arrest and later release of a man charged with the drive-by shooting of a 6-year-old boy in the head on June 6, they issued lengthy joint news releases about the developments.

What new police chief Robert Tracy didn’t say — and what Mayor Mike Purzycki’s office didn’t know, according to his spokesman — is that city officers had already arrested and indicted another man for the shooting.

The victim of the brazen daytime attack, Jashown Banner, remains in critical condition at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children, where he underwent surgery this week. The boy was in his mother’s white Ford Explorer at Sixth and Spruce streets when the vehicle was caught in a hail of bullets as the gunman fired at another man, the indictment said. The boy’s mother, Shaylynn, suffered injuries to her arm when she was struck by glass fragments or other debris from the shooting.

But according to a grand jury indictment on June 12 — the day before initial suspect Chelsea Outlaw was released from prison for lack of evidence — a different suspect was already in custody.

Michael Pritchett, a 32-year-old convicted heroin trafficker who authorities said has been imprisoned on and off since 2004, faces 13 felony charges, including two counts of first-degree attempted murder.  Pritchett is being held at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington in lieu of $2.35 million cash bail, prison officials said.

 Police decided, however, not to publicize the second arrest, and in an interview with WHYY on June 20 — eight days later — Chief Tracy didn’t say authorities had a suspect in custody. Instead he told a reporter his officers were still working on the case.

The second arrest comes as a complete surprise to Purzycki’s office, spokesman John Rago said this morning.

“It’s baffling to us,” Rago said of the case in which the mayor’s office and police had been presenting a unified front. “We didn’t know anything about this. We are trying to figure it out.”

Although police worked with the Attorney General’s Office and other agencies on Pritchett’s arrest, Tracy’s office didn’t have answer today either.

“I don’t know anything about the second arrest,” said Sgt. Shane Snowden, who is filling in as the police spokesman while Sgt. Andrea Janvier is on vacation.

Along with the revelation of Pritchett’s arrest, WHYY has also learned today that the man he was allegedly firing at that day — 38-year-old gun felon Markevis Stanford — has also been in custody since the day after the shooting.

Stanford is also being held at the Young prison, on $1 million cash bail. Stanford, who has been in and out of custody since 2009, is charged with possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony, driving without a license and other charges. WHYY could not immediately learn whether Stanford’s arrest stemmed from the shooting incident. 

Indictment: Gunman fired at another felon

Beyond the disconnect between Tracy and Purzycki on this second arrest and the failure to inform the public in the high-profile shooting, the indictment sheds new light on the shooting of an innocent child that shocked residents and community leaders who have grown accustomed to violence in poorer neighborhoods.

The city has seen record gun violence in recent years, and with 103 shootings and 20 homicides, respectively, in less than six months this year, is on pace to shatter previous highs for bloodshed.

The indictment, brought by Deputy Attorney General Mark Denney, accuses Pritchett of firing repeatedly at Stanford with a .40-caliber handgun. The indictment did not specify the relationship between Pritchett and Stanford or say why authorities believed Pritchett was trying to kill him.

While Attorney General Matt Denn’s office sometimes does announce indictments in high-profile cases, they did not do so in Pritchett’s case.

Denney said today that prosecutors have “been working hand in hand” with Wilmington police since the shooting. Denney, who heads his office’s Wilmington Unit, would not comment about why police have kept quiet about the second arrest.

“There’s a lot to work through,” Denney said of the case. “It’s an open investigation on an important matter so everyone is doing the best they can.”

Pritchett was arrested in 2010 in Wilmington after a wild car chase through the city when he threw a package out the window containing more than 17,500 bags of heroin stamped with the brand “Lottery.”  He later jumped out of his vehicle and ran off before being caught in a wooded area in the Augustine Ridge development just west of the city.

First suspect freed after five days behind bars

Outlaw had been charged and held on $2 million cash bail on June 8 – two days after the shooting. The next day Purzycki’s office released a joint statement by the mayor and Tracy, veteran Chicago and New York police administrator who became Wilmington’s chief less than two months earlier.

The release took pains to note that the 41-year-old Minquadale-area man had an “extensive arrest record.”

Court records showed that an eyewitness had described the gunman as a brown-skinned, freckle-faced gunman with golden hair. 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,” the arrest affidavit said.

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

But on June 13, police dropped the charges and Outlaw was freed from prison after officers and prosecutors concluded they had the wrong guy. The joint mayoral-police announcement did not offer explanation for the erroneous arrest except that police had “uncovered evidence” exonerating Outlaw. The announcement added that officers had “developed new leads with other possible suspects” that are being pursued.

What the release omitted was the fact that police and prosecutors had another suspect in custudy.

Pritchett, however, looks nothing like Outlaw, according to arrest photos provided by police. He has darker skin and hair and no freckles.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.