D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray joined LGBT activists on Friday in expressing shock and outrage over news that an off-duty District police officer allegedly fired a pistol at three transgender women and two male friends while the group was sitting in a car on a city street.
Police issued a statement Friday saying three of the people in the car “sustained non-life threatening injuries” in the incident. The statement said the officer involved in the incident was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon and driving while intoxicated.
Deputy Police Chief Diane Groomes told the Blade that the officer, identified by police sources as Kenneth Furr, was stripped of his police duties pending the outcome of an investigation by the department’s Internal Affairs Division and Force Investigation Team.
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In a separate statement released earlier in the day, Mayor Gray expressed “shock and outrage” over the incident.
“I am deeply troubled by the apparent circumstances surrounding this incident and await the results of a full MPD investigation,” Gray said. “These are serious charges, and they are particularly disturbing to have been brought against one who is sworn to protect and serve.”
Gray praised members of the LGBT community, including officials with the local group Transgender Health Empowerment, for providing immediate assistance to the victims and help in the police investigation.
Employees with Transgender Health Empowerment and members of the D.C. Trans Coalition said they spoke on Friday with two of the transgender women involved in the incident. According to the employees and the DCTC members, the two women said the incident started when Officer Furr, appearing drunk, approached one of the two women on the street near First and Pierce Streets, N.W. about 5:25 a.m.
They said the two victims informed them that Furr became angry when he solicited one of the women for sex and she turned him down. What unfolded next remains unclear, with police officials saying they wanted to wait until Furr appeared in court on Saturday or Monday before providing full details as they known them.
“Preliminary investigation reveals a confrontation occurred involving an off-duty officer and five other individuals, some of which are members of the transgender community,” police said in a statement released Friday morning. “The officer discharged a handgun and one person was shot and sustained non-life threatening injuries,” the statement says.
“Two other individuals involved in the incident sustained injuries which are also non-life threatening,” according to the statement. “The nature of those injuries is under investigation to determine their cause.”
T.H.E. employee and transgender activist Jeri Hughes said two of the trans women involved in the incident told her organization that one of them was struck by a bullet in the hand and the other was grazed by a bullet. Hughes said one of the men in the car with the three trans women, who was identified as the brother of one of the women, sustained a “very serious” gunshot wound and was in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital.
Police would neither confirm nor deny that report as of late Friday, saying they were still investigating the details of the incident.
About 70 people turned out for a 6:30 p.m. rally at the site of the shooting, which was organized by T.H.E. and DCTC. Among those who spoke at the rally were D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Groomes, who said she was appearing on behalf of Police Chief Cathy Lanier.
DCTC member Elijah Edelman told the gathering that Friday’s shooting of at least two transgender women by an off-duty police officer was one of many attacks and assaults against trans women that have occurred in the past few months in D.C.
“So I think it’s fair to say a lot of us are really pissed off,” he said. “It’s very, very frustrating. We had conversations with Chief Lanier over the past several weeks, over the past several years, and nothing changes – nothing changes,” Edelman said. “So this is a moment in which we can finally say enough – we’re not going to keep doing this.”
Other activists speaking at the rally, including D.C. Trans Coalition member Ruby Corado, praised the police handling of the latest incident. They said they were hopeful that police were finally carrying out a department policy for transgender related matters that was excellent “on paper” but had not been followed very often by rank and file officers.
In the latest case, the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit was called immediately to provide help, Groomes told the rally. She said the GLLU, in turn, immediately alerted LGBT activists on its e-mail list about the incident and what the unit was doing to respond.
Two Latino transgender women who spoke at the rally gave personal accounts of attacks against them in the city. Both women spoke in Spanish, with Corado translating their remarks in English. One told of how she was beaten and raped two weeks ago by an ex-boyfriend. The other women told of how she was attacked inside Dupont Circle by a male assailant who she is certain targeted her because of her status as a transgender woman.
“We wanted them to come here so we can put a human face on the statistics of so many of these cases that continue to happen,” Corado said.
Others speaking at the rally included A.J. Singletary of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), Cyndee Clay of Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), and Sadie Vashti of D.C. Trans Coalition.