D.C. police chose not to list as a hate crime an April 21 incident in which one U.S. Marine allegedly stabbed another Marine to death after reportedly calling him an anti-gay slur on a D.C. street, according to a police incident report.
The commander of the D.C. Police Homicide Branch, Lt. Robert Alder, said the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit and the police hate crimes coordinator were reviewing information about the case and a hate crime designation could be added to the report sometime later.
Police said the incident took place about 2:30 a.m. on the sidewalk along the 700 block of 8th Street, S.E., across the street from the historic Marine Corps Barracks where the man charged in the killing is stationed.
Michael Joseph Poth, 20, has been charged with second-degree murder while armed for the stabbing death of Marine Lance Cpl. Philip Bushong, 23, police said in a statement released on Saturday.
“Information uncovered during the course of the preliminary investigation indicates that there was a verbal exchange, and during the exchange a homophobic slur was heard from the suspect prior to the stabbing,” the police statement says.
Alder told the Blade on Monday that a Marine guard stationed across the street outside the Marine Barracks witnessed the incident. Police said one or more of the guards apprehended Poth before D.C. police and D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel arrived on the scene.
According to Alder, police investigators are looking for more witnesses who may have heard what Poth and Bushong were arguing about just prior ot the stabbing. He said evidence so far indicates the two did not know each other and likely met for the first time when they crossed paths on the sidewalk on 8th Street minutes before a verbal altercation turned violent.
“From what we know, the argument was not over sexual orientation,” Alder told the Blade. “And I would say at this time the information that we have appears to show that it was an insult in the heat of their argument and did not have anything to do with any perceived sexual orientation,” he said.
The police report says Bushong was taken to the Med Star unit at Washington Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.
The police report, known as the 251 Incident Based Event Report, says the stabbing took place on the sidewalk in front of 727 8th St., S.E., a sporting goods store located two doors away from the Ugly Mug restaurant and bar.
The Washington Post reports that friends of Bushong said Bushong visited the Ugly Mug earlier that night and was a regular customer and former employee of the bar.
The location where Bushong was stabbed is three doors away from the Dignity Center, a building owned by the gay Catholic group Dignity Washington. The site of the stabbing is also located less than a block from the residence of Gen. James F. Amos, the Marine Corps commandant.
“He was a very lighthearted, good young man,” the Post quoted the Ugly Mug’s general manager, Brent McCaslin, as saying of Bushong. “He was an outstanding employee. I never saw him angry. He was always happy,” the Post quoted McCaslin as saying.
Some additional information about the case was expected to emerge at a D.C. Superior Court presentment hearing for Poth scheduled for Monday afternoon.
“Bushong’s friends said Bushong was not gay, nor was he homophobic,” the Post reported.
“You could have called him gay and he wouldn’t have cared,” the Post quoted Nishith Pandya, one of Bushong’s friends, as saying. “He would have laughed,” the paper quoted her as saying.
Assistant D.C. Police Chief Diane Groomes told the Blade in an email that the police report stating the incident was not a hate crime may have been prepared before witnesses were interviewed and additional information became known.
“When things first happen, not all facts are sorted out immediately on the scene,” Groomes said.
Even if the police listed the incident as a hate crime, the final decision on whether to charge Poth with a hate crime is made by the United States Attorney’s office, which prosecutes most cases in the city involving a violent crime.
The city’s hate crimes law calls for charging a person with committing a hate crime if he or she commits a violent act against another person based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or several other factors such as race, religion, or ethnicity.
William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said the office doesn’t comment on pending cases.
Miller declined to say in general whether prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office would charge someone with a hate crime if he or she hurled an anti-gay slur with the intent of insulting a victim whose sexual orientation was unknown or believed to be straight.
“We have veteran prosecutors who review cases to determine if they meet the criteria for hate-crime enhancements,” Miller told the Blade in an email. “We decline to address your specific questions. We can say that we weigh the evidence very carefully in making the charging decisions.”
Zeke Stokes, a spokesperson for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a national LGBT organization that represents gay members of the military, said the group is not aware of an increase in anti-LGBT violence in the military as a result of the recent repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which cleared the way for gays to serve openly in the military.
“All reports from the field are that implementation of DADT repeal is going very well across all services,” Stokes said.
Concerning the murder of Marine Corps member Bushong outside the Marine Barracks in D.C., Stokes said, “We understand that an investigation is underway by the appropriate authorities and it would be premature for SLDN to comment on this homicide until more of the facts are known.”