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Howard Student Arrested, Charged With Murder

A Washington, D.C. jail cell is the last place many would think jazz pianist and former Howard soccer player Arlen Garrett would spend time.

However, after a recent arrest linked to a Feb. 29 fatal shooting in the University Town Center (UTC), Garrett and another suspect, Mashelleck Ellis, 18, are locked up.

"Honestly, it was a shock and I'm praying to God that they got the wrong person and that it's not him," said Chris Taylor, a member of the men's soccer team. "But I guess we'll have to wait and see what the deal is."

Taylor, a junior biology major and teammate of Garrett's, played with him for two years. This year, Garrett did not play on the team.

When he was a member of the team, Garrett served as a mentor to some of the younger players.

"When I came up here, he kind of took me under and showed me around," Taylor said. "He was just real cool to get along with."

Police announced Monday that two male suspects had been arrested for the shooting that occurred in University Town Center (UTC) on Feb. 29 in Hyattsville, Md. Both suspects faced second-degree murder charges in the death of Donald James Smalls Jr., who was visiting his girlfriend, a Howard student. Police said Smalls died soon after being taken to a nearby hospital.

Prince George's County Public Information Officer Henry Tippett said the two were being held in the District and would be extradited to Prince George's County. Both suspects did not know their bond status at that time.

Garrett and Ellis were arrested separately by District and Prince George's County officers on Friday afternoon, March 7.

If convicted on the charge of second-degree murder, the two suspects may face up to a life sentence in prison.

At the time of the shooting, both suspects went to UTC to meet Smalls, according to the Prince George's Country Police Department. After a struggle took place, the victim was shot in the lower body, and both suspects left the scene on foot. In compliance with university policy, Garrett has been suspended from the university and barred from any campus activities pending the outcome of the case, according to a university statement.

Authorities were not able to release any information about Ellis, except Tippett said, "I don't believe the other suspect was a student."

Garrett's arrest was the second in recent weeks of Howard-affiliated suspects in criminal cases. Joseph E. Okoh, the men's soccer coach, was charged with soliciting on the Internet for sex with a person he believed to be a 13-year-old girl. He was arrested Jan. 25 in a sting operation by Virginia authorities.

Some students were surprised to learn that Garrett, a jazz studies major, had been arrested.

"He comes from a good family, and as a lot of people might know, he's an accomplished pianist," Taylor said. "The boy is ridiculous on the piano."

Connaitre Miller, an associate professor in jazz music, was Garrett's advisor.

"I really like him a lot, and we're shocked and saddened by the news if it's true," Miller said. "I'm very surprised. Arlen is my advisee and I think he's such a wonderful young man. I pray that this is not true."

Miller described Garrett as very upbeat and always respectful.

Kehembe Eichelberger, chair of the department of music, said that while she did not have Taylor as a student, she did know of his involvement in jazz studies.

"I didn't have him as a student, but I was alarmed when I heard the news," Eichelberger said. "I think the media needs to take a broader view."

She added, "They're very quick in the media to point to an institution and area, and I don't want to see that happen."

Eichelberger said Garrett performed in the Noonday Recital last week that is held every Wednesday at noon in Blackburn.

"I know that he has played in a couple of recitals recently and I think that he showed some promise," Miller said. "He sure loves music, that's for sure."

Some hope the university focuses on what can be done for students who are going through difficult situations, instead of focusing on messages from the local media.

"This means that person had a personal issue that needed to be addressed," Eichelberger said. "I hope we approach this proactively and deductively rather than making what's put in the news as final."

She suggested university counseling service as a means for helping students who may have personal concerns.

"I hope and pray he's okay and that we're able to assist him in any way," she said.

Many believe societal views may play a role in young men resorting to crime to prove manhood.

"Only when you're a criminal are you called a man," Eichelberger said. "We cannot be mandated into manhood by that definition."

Some teammates did not know Garrett as being involved with the police in the past.

"He's a real fun and playful type of guy, just real easy to get along with," Taylor said. "The guy is just hilarious, and he was the reason soccer trips would be so fun."

Garrett is not the first member of the men's soccer team to have a public arrest this year. In January, the team's coach, Joseph Okoh, was arrested for soliciting sex from a minor over the Internet.

"All we can do is just be there for our teammates and our coaches," Taylor said. "That's all we can do and all we've been doing.

He added, "We're still a family, and we just stay there for each other despite whatever's been going on."

Shivonne Foster writes for The Hilltop, Howard University's student newspaper, where a version of this story originally appeared.

Posted March 12, 2008

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