A D.C. police official said on Thursday that an investigation into the March 11 shooting of a gay man at a Columbia Heights restaurant, which police listed as a hate crime, is “progressing very well” and an arrest in the case is expected soon.
At a news conference outside police headquarters, Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham, who heads the department’s Investigational Services Bureau, said the severe beating and robbery of a gay man and an assault that knocked a transgender woman unconscious one day later were unrelated to the shooting incident.
Newsham said the March 12 beating and robbery incident at Georgia Avenue and Irving Street, N.W., in which a 29-year-old gay man was hospitalized with a broken jaw and head injuries, is listed as an anti-gay hate crime. But he said no evidence could be found to classify the March 12 assault against the transgender woman at West Virginia Avenue and Mt. Olivet Road, N.E., as an anti-trans hate crime.
“It’s unclear what the motive was,” he said of the transgender assault, which resulted in the woman being hospitalized, according to a police report.
“It’s unfortunate that we’ve had members of this community that have been the victims,” said Newsham, when asked if the LGBT community was being targeted.
“The only thing I can really point out to people is that they don’t appear to be related. So it doesn’t appear to be a group of folks that’s targeting or a specific group of people that’s targeting this community,” he said.
Police have said the shooting incident, involving a 31-year-old gay male victim, began after the victim and at least three suspects in the case got into an argument that escalated into a physical altercation.
A witness who identified himself as the victim’s cousin said he, the victim and another cousin were sitting at a table at the International House of Pancakes restaurant on 14th Street, N.W. in Columbia Heights when he overheard the suspect and two people seated with him refer to the people sitting at the victim’s table as “faggies.”
The cousin told the Blade the altercation began when the victim got up to pay the restaurant bill and the suspect and the two people with him blocked his path, prompting him to push his way past the three people. Witnesses heard a gunshot during the scuffle that broke out between the parties, and the victim quickly discovered he had been hit, a police report says.
He was taken to a hospital and remains under treatment for what Newsham said was a non-life threatening injury. The cousin said the gunshot wound injured the victim’s liver.
“The investigation into that case is progressing very well at this point in time,” Newsham said at the news conference. “Investigators have been working on it since the incident occurred and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to bring that matter to closure.”
Asked if any of the incidents were captured by video cameras that police and private businesses often install on utility poles, Newsham said, “We will not be releasing video at this time…We do have video in a couple of the cases but we don’t feel we need any help with the video at this time,” he said. “We’ve identified most of the people that were involved.”
Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, who accompanied Newsham at the news conference, said his office was working closely with police officials to combat hate crimes against all groups.
“We begin to think about the broader implications of why these things are happening,” Richardson said. “We continue to work very closely with community groups and to think about what type of outreach we can do to really begin some culture shifting work around some of these issues.”
Richardson’s comments came after Mayor Vincent Gray issued his own statement denouncing the three incidents of violence against members of the LGBT community.
“All crime is horrific and destructive to the fabric of our community, but especially violent behavior that targets people because of their ethnic background, sexual orientation, faith or other identifying characteristics,”Gray said.
“These kinds of crimes are particularly insidious, because they are designed to instill fear in an entire community,” he said. “This cannot and will not stand in the District of Columbia, where all of our residents have the right to walk the streets of our neighborhoods free of fear, regardless of their identities, beliefs or characteristics. The Metropolitan Police Department and I will not rest until the perpetrators of these brutal crimes are arrested, tried and safely locked away.”
Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham, a Democrat representing Ward 1, where the shooting and beating-robbery took place, said he was closely monitoring the police investigation into the incidents.
“Such crimes clearly will not be tolerated. And we are all agreed on that,” Graham said in a statement. “As to the shooting inside IHOP at 6:30 AM, the video camera footage has been obtained, and police are confident of a closure on this.”
Graham said police officials told him an off-duty D.C. police detective had been eating at the IHOP at the time of the incident and intervened immediately, a development that provides police with an important advantage in their investigation of the incident.
Gay activist Peter Rosenstein, president of the Campaign For All D.C. Families, which advocated for the city’s same-sex marriage law, praised Gray and Graham for denouncing the latest incidents of violence against GLBT people but expressed concern that other elected officials had yet to speak out on the incidents.
“While DC has taken great steps forward in areas such as marriage-equality, we are still seeing too much violence against the LGBT community,” he said. “We must demand that our elected Council members and the mayor speak out and work to educate people to prevent these crimes in the future. The punishment for these crimes needs to be swift and severe and people need to know there will be major repercussions for this senseless violence against our community.”