Aug 22, 2023
Blade welcomes fall intern
Cal Benn is studying journalism at Emerson College Published on By The Washington Blade this week announced this year’s fall intern is Cal Benn. Benn, a journalism major at Emerson College who is in
Cal Benn is studying journalism at Emerson College
The Washington Blade this week announced this year’s fall intern is Cal Benn.
Benn, a journalism major at Emerson College who is in D.C. with the Washington Center, officially started at the Blade on Monday.
Benn’s work focuses on human rights, climate change and how the two issues intersect. They are also passionate about sustainability, advocacy and writing and enjoy skateboarding and playing with their cats when they are not writing.
Benn will be with the Blade through early December.
Prosecutors dismiss case against suspect in 2017 murder of D.C. trans man
D.C. gay couple robbed, pistol whipped but U.S. Attorney has yet to prosecute
Comings & Goings
Distraught mother of victim is told lead witness went missing
At the request of prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney, a D.C. Superior Court judge on Aug. 17 dismissed a charge of first-degree murder and two gun related charges against a D.C. man arrested for the 2017 shooting death of a transgender man in a Southeast D.C. apartment where police say both men were living.
Court records show Akihs Gaius Green, 42, was found shot in the head execution style on March 1, 2017, in an apartment where he and the man charged with shooting him, Jordan Smith, 36, and Smith’s girlfriend, had been living at 212 Wayne Place, S.E.
Green died from the gunshot wound more than four months later on July 21, 2017, court records show. Charging documents show that D.C. police initially charged Smith with second-degree murder on Nov. 9, 2017, following an investigation into the incident.
At the request of prosecutors, a grand jury on June 11, 2018, indicted Smith on charges of First-Degree Murder While Armed, Possession of a Firearm During a Crime of Violence, and Unlawful Possession of a Firearm (Prior Conviction). Court records show Smith had a prior conviction of illegal possession of a gun.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office did not respond to a request by the Washington Blade for an explanation of why its prosecutors decided to dismiss the case. The office has a longstanding policy of not publicly disclosing its reasons for dismissing cases or not prosecuting cases.
Green’s mother, Vickie McNeal, told the Blade prosecutors in the case informed her last week that the lead prosecution witness in the case could not be found and they did not believe they could obtain a conviction at Smith’s trial, which was scheduled to begin on Sept. 12.
An affidavit in support of Smith’s arrest says the lead witness, identified only as Witness 2, was believed to have been Smith’s girlfriend. The affidavit says Smith and Green reportedly had been staying at her apartment at the time of the shooting.
McNeal said she believes Green, who was a friend of Witness 2, was visiting the apartment on the night of the shooting but was not living there.
The arrest affidavit says Witness 2 told police she saw Smith pull out a gun after he got into an argument with Green and she heard three shots fired, but she didn’t see who fired the gun. Another witness, according to the arrest affidavit, told police Witness 2 told that witness that she saw Smith shoot Green.
But Witness 2 denied she said that and has insisted she did not witness the shooting, the affidavit states. The affidavit also states that Witness 2 told police she was high on PCP at the time of the incident and her memory of what happened was unclear.
McNeal said prosecutors called her and visited her home to inform her of the decision to dismiss the case. She said their visit and phone call came after they informed her in June that the case was moving forward, and they were ready for the upcoming trial.
Among those who called and came to her home to tell her the case was dropped, McNeal said, were Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marybeth Manfeda and David Gorman, and witness-victim specialist Jennifer Clark.
“They were just saying they couldn’t find the witness,” McNeal told the Blade. “And I said the United States can find anybody they want to find. So, you can’t tell me they can’t find her. Because I say nothing has been done.”
Added McNeal, “I was hollering and crying and screaming for hours and made myself sick” shortly after being informed the case against the man she believes murdered her transgender child had been dropped.
The arrest affidavit says Smith told detectives who questioned him that his girlfriend and Green had been in a relationship at one time, but his girlfriend told him they were just friends at the time of the shooting. That raised speculation that Smith’s motive for the shooting could have been jealousy over his girlfriend having a relationship with Green.
But McNeal said she is convinced the motive for the murder was Smith’s anti-gay and anti-trans bias.
“He’s a hater,” she said. “He’s a hater of homosexual women. He’s homophobic and transgender phobic.”
Veteran D.C. defense attorney Cheryl Stein, at the Blade’s request, reviewed some of the court records for the case against Smith before it was dismissed on Aug. 17.
“Because I do not have access to most of the relevant pleadings in the case, I cannot give a definitive explanation of why the government dismissed the case,” she told the Blade. “But based on the documents that I have reviewed, it is clear to me that the prosecution determined that it simply didn’t have enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said.
Stein noted that the defense raised serious questions about the credibility of the lead witness in the case, Witness 2, by citing her statements to police that she was on PCP at the time of the incident.
“When questioned right after the murder, she said she had no memory of the events,” Stein points out. “When a witness is so altered by drugs or alcohol that it affects their ability to accurately perceive and/or remember what they witnessed, they are disqualified from testifying,” she said. “Without that witness, the prosecution cannot possibly prove its case.”
Stein also points to court records showing the defense raised in a motion to “Suppress Tangible Evidence and Statements” that police allegedly violated Smith’s Miranda rights to remain silent when police took him into custody and obtained statements from him that could be incriminating.
“If those facts are correct, then nothing he said could be introduced at trial,” Stein said.
McNeal said her trans son, who went by the nickname Pinky, was a loving member of his family and was studying to be a medical technician. She said he had an associate degree from Prince George’s Community College and was attending the University of the District of Columbia at the time of his death.
Victim says attackers shouted anti-gay slurs, hit him in face with gun last year
A D.C. gay man says an official with the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia last week explained to him why the office has yet to prosecute two male suspects identified by D.C. police who allegedly assaulted and robbed him and his partner at gunpoint near their home while yelling anti-gay slurs more than a year ago.
The gay man, who asked to be identified by his first name, Michael, said the incident took place shortly after midnight on Jan. 8, 2022, as he and his partner, who has also asked to be identified by his first name, Christopher, were walking home at the intersection of 4th and N streets, N.W., when two men wearing ski masks and brandishing handguns approached them and demanded their money.
According to Michael, the official with the U.S. Attorney’s office, whom he declined to identify, told him the delay in prosecuting the case was due to a lack of sufficient evidence to bring the suspects identified by police to trial. But he said the official told him the case remains open and under investigation.
Michael described the incident in detail in an Aug. 1 letter he mailed to Matthew W. Graves, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who serves as the city’s lead prosecutor.
He urged Graves in his letter to take steps to prosecute the case using information he and Christopher provided police, including the license plate number of the suspects’ getaway car and purchases made with a credit card stolen from the couple during the robbery. Michael provided a copy of the letter to the Washington Blade.
“Two men confronted us yelling homophobic slurs then robbed us at gunpoint,” Michael told Graves in his letter. “During this time, I was also pistol whipped in the face before the two escaped in a getaway car,” he wrote. “To my dismay, it has been more than a year since the incident occurred, and no progress has been made prosecuting the offenders,” he told Graves in his Aug. 1 letter.
Michael points to a D.C. police report confirming that police obtained what they believed was sufficient probable cause to obtain a warrant for the arrest of at least two suspects they identified in their investigation. The police report says the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined the police request for the warrant.
But the report does not list the incident as a hate crime, and a police spokesperson told the Blade that the two victims never told police investigators that the suspects called them anti-gay names. Michael and Christopher told the Blade they thought they mentioned the anti-gay name calling to police, but they acknowledge they may not have done so following the trauma of being robbed at gunpoint.
Michael told the Blade that the official with the U.S. Attorney’s office for the first time informed him in an Aug. 25 phone conversation that the delay in prosecuting the case was due to difficulty in definitively identifying the two suspects who robbed him and Christopher and a third suspect who drove the getaway car based on just the license number and credit card information.
“She said since they had multiple people in the vehicle, and because the gunmen were masked, they are having a hard time linking the credit card/phone information to the car’s license plate,” Michael said the official told him. “They have to specifically know who did what part of the crime to charge them,” he attributed the official as saying.
Michael said in an Aug. 28 phone interview with the Blade that he told the U.S. Attorney’s office official that he wants the office to prosecute the case, but he is doubtful the office will do so based on what the official told him.
The office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. has a longstanding policy of not publicly disclosing its reasons for not prosecuting cases like this one.
Patricia Hartman, a spokesperson for the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office, when contacted by the Blade, declined to comment on the case, saying, “We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.”
The Blade will update this story to include any explanation the U.S. Attorney’s office decides to publicly disclose for its reason for not prosecuting this case.
Christopher, Michael’s partner, told the Blade one of the two suspects that robbed the two men began touching and grabbing his crotch in an “unwelcome action” toward him as the suspect was checking his pants pockets for a wallet or any other belonging that the two suspects intended to steal from the two men as the armed robbery unfolded.
The man who touched his crotch did so after he pointed a gun at his chest, Christopher said.The D.C. police report for the incident obtained by the Washington Blade says that in addition to taking the two men’s wallets, at least $100 in cash, and credit cards, the armed gunmen took Christopher’s Canada Goose jacket, which the report says had an estimated value of $1,500.
The police report includes the notation, “Prosecution Declined (May 4, 2022).”
The report, however, also states that the incident is not listed as a suspected hate crime.
D.C. police spokesperson Paris Lewbel provided a statement to the Blade saying the two men did not tell the officers responding to the scene of the incident or detectives in follow-up interviews that the suspects called them anti-gay names.
“We have reviewed the BWC [Body Worn Camera] footage of the officers who responded to the scene and interviewed the two victims of the crime,” the police statement says. “They never told officers that the suspects made any statement or anti-gay remarks,” it says.
“In a review of follow-up interviews by detectives, they also never stated the suspects made any statement,” the statement continues. “Had they told the responding officers or detectives, this case would have been classified as a Hate Crime,” it says.
The statement adds, “The detectives conducted a complete and exhaustive investigation of this offense, and based on probable cause, they submitted arrest warrants to the United States Attorney’s Office; after a review, the USAO declined to pursue charges at that time, and MPD closed the case administratively.”
The police statement concludes by saying, “We cannot comment about USAO’s decision and refer you to them for additional information.
Both Michael and Christopher told the Blade they thought they told police about the anti-gay slurs made by the two suspects who robbed them, but they now believe they may not have disclosed that information under the stress and anxiety they experienced after having been robbed at gunpoint.
“I think we were mostly just in shock at the moment,” Christopher told the Blade in a phone interview. “I don’t know if we focused on that,” he said in recalling that he and Michael were questioned by police officers at the time of the incident for about two hours.
“I’m used to being called a faggot,” Christopher added. “I’m not fazed by that anymore,” he said, pointing out that those feelings and the stress at the moment may have prompted him not to raise the issue of the anti-gay slurs by the two suspects.
Spokespersons for the D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office did not respond to a question by the Blade on whether they might bring a hate crime charge against the suspects if the case is eventually prosecuted.
Under the D.C. hate crimes law as recently amended, hatred need not be the only motive for the underlying crime for which a hate crime designation could be added. Although armed robbery was the underlying crime in this case, prosecutors can add a hate crime designation if they believe there is sufficient evidence to do so.
Michael states in his letter to U.S. Attorney Graves that he and Christopher provided D.C. police with a photo of the rear of the getaway car capturing the license plate number after the two suspects entered the car with a third person driving the vehicle. Christopher said he took the photo with his phone that the suspects, for unknown reasons, did not take. They took Michael’s phone but minutes later tossed it out the window of the getaway car as it drove off.
According to Michael’s letter to Graves, he and Christopher promptly reported the incident to D.C. police, provided police with the photo of the car license number and subsequently provided police with information about how one of the credit cards stolen from them was used to order food through a food delivery service.
“With the help of online account information provided by the food delivery service, MPD told us they had enough telephonic evidence to corroborate our stories and for an arrest warrant,” Michael says in the letter.
Defense attorneys familiar with this type of case have said “probable cause” by itself may not be sufficient to convince a jury to render a verdict of guilty. Defense attorneys point to the requirement under criminal law that prosecutors must convince a jury that someone is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a more stringent criteria than probable cause.
Michael said one or more of the detectives involved in the case told him they believed the evidence obtained from the license plate number of the getaway car, the use of at least one stolen credit card, and information from the food delivery service DoorDash that one of the suspects made purchases through the stolen credit card was substantial enough to charge the suspects, who Michael said the detectives declined to identify by name.
“I do believe that even if one could not prove armed robbery beyond a reasonable doubt, other illegal acts, such as credit card fraud, could be proven,” Michael said in his letter to Graves.
Omari Foote to cover small biz issues in D.C.
The Blade Foundation, a nonprofit that works to educate the next generation of queer journalists, named the recipient of its fall fellowship last week.
Omari Foote, a senior majoring in journalism at Howard University, joined the Foundation last week and will spend 12 weeks covering issues related to queer-owned businesses in D.C.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity to write for this trailblazing publication,” Foote said. “I can’t wait to get to work and begin highlighting LGBTQ businesses.”
The fellowship is funded through a grant from the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.
“Mayor Bowser and the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs firmly believe in supporting the next generation of queer journalism,” said Japer Bowles, director of the office. “The Washington Blade has been a bedrock for our LGBTQIA+ community for decades by providing us with crucial news that educate and inform us, but also inspire us to live openly and freely as queer folx. We look forward to the continued success of this fellowship program and the stories that come from engaging our vibrant LGBTQIA+ business community.”
LGBTQ groups participate in March on Washington
Ugandan man charged with ‘aggravated homosexuality’ could face death penalty
Canada warns LGBTQ citizens about traveling to US
School boards are the battlefield for LGBTQ+ RightsCal BennAkihs Gaius GreenOmari Foote