D.C. police on Monday arrested a 27-year-old woman in connection with the March 11 shooting of a gay man at the International House of Pancakes restaurant in Columbia Heights that police listed as an anti-gay hate crime.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Police Chief Cathy Lanier announced that police charged LaShawn Yvonne Carson with aggravated assault while armed.
D.C. Superior Court records show that Carson appeared at a presentment hearing on Monday shortly before the news conference. Court records show that Judge Diana Harris Epps ordered Carson held without bond pending a preliminary hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday.
“I am pleased and relieved to announce that a suspect in this dastardly crime has been arrested,” Gray said in a statement released at the news conference.
“As I said at the time of the shooting, while all crime is horrific and destructive to the fabric of our community, hate crimes are particularly insidious because they instill fear in an entire group,” he said. All of our residents should have the right to walk the streets of our neighborhoods free of fear that they will be targeted because of their identities beliefs or characteristics.”
Lanier said at the news conference that although police classified the shooting as a bias crime related to the victim’s sexual orientation, it would be up to the United States Attorney’s Office to decide whether to add a bias related designation to the charge of aggravated assault while armed.
Matt Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said Tuesday that prosecutors with the office don’t make a decision on whether to designate a case as a hate crime until it comes before a grand jury further along in the prosecution.
“Our investigation in the case is onging,” he said. “That is not something we normally charge at this point.”
Under the D.C. hate crimes law, those convicted of a hate designated crime of violence are subjected to a greater penalty, including additional time served in prison.
“This is an enormous relief,” said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), in commenting on the arrest. Graham, who’s gay and who spoke at the news conference, called the shooting “an insane act” that created an atmosphere of fear in the community.
“To shoot somebody at breakfast in a public restaurant over a perceived slight is insane behavior by any standard,” he said “So this is a great relief for the community that I represent,” said Graham, noting that the IHOP restaurant is located in his ward.
Police said the 31-year-old male victim in the shooting reportedly had been subjected to anti-gay name calling. The victim’s cousin, who was present during the incident, told the Blade that a scuffle broke out near the entrance of the restaurant when the woman and two male friends blocked the victim’s path when he got up to pay the bill. Police said witnesses saw a scuffle break out and heard the firing of a gun.
Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham said last week that the incident may have been captured on a video surveillance system at the restaurant.
Police said the victim had been treated in a hospital for a non-life threatening gunshot wound.
The shooting took place one day before two other incidents of anti-LGBT violence surfaced in the city. A 29-year-old gay man was badly beaten and robbed a short distance away at Georgia Avenue and Irving Streets, N.W. about 9:30 p.m. on March 12. Police and the victim’s partner said attackers called the victim anti-gay names.
Police listed the incident as an anti-gay hate crime
At about 11:45 p.m. that same day, a transgender woman was knocked unconscious at West Virginia Avenue and Mt. Olivet Road, N.E. by at least two assailants, police said. Police said the woman was unable to hear whether the attackers used anti-trans language during the attack and have insufficient evidence so far to list the incident as a hate crime.
The three incidents prompted friends of the 29-year-old victim to organize a march through the streets of Columbia Heights and other parts of the city last week to draw attention to anti-LGBT violence. Close to 700 people turned out for the event.
“I would like to thank the mayor, chief of police and the MPD for the swift response and arrest of a suspect in the heinous shooting of a member of the LGBT community at the IHOP in Columbia Heights,” said gay activist Peter Rosenstein. “No one, no matter what their cultural background, color or sexual orientation should feel unsafe in our community.”