A woman charged with aggravated assault while armed in the March 11 shooting of a gay man at the International House of Pancakes restaurant in Columbia Heights was released to home detention on Thursday, May 3, by a D.C. Superior Court judge.
The decision by Magistrate Judge Frederick J. Sullivan to order Lashawn Yvonne Carson, 27, confined to her home while wearing an electronic ankle bracelet came after Carson’s attorney waived her right to an evidentiary preliminary hearing, raising speculation that she may plead guilty to a lower charge under a government plea bargain deal.
“No good defense lawyer waives a preliminary hearing unless they get something important in return,” said Dale Edwin Sanders, an attorney who practices criminal law in D.C. and Virginia.
Sullivan scheduled a felony status conference for Carson on May 22, and Sanders said a plea agreement could be announced at that time.
Carson’s attorney, Patrick Christmas, did not respond to a request for comment. William Miller, a spokesperson for the United States Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, noted that the prosecutor from his office opposed Carson’s release and “urged continued detention” before the judge ruled against that request.
Miller said the U.S. Attorney’s office would have no further comment because the case remains pending.
According to accounts by police and witnesses, Carson allegedly shot the victim in the abdomen about 6:30 a.m. near the lobby of the IHOP restaurant after an off-duty D.C. police officer broke up a physical altercation between Carson and several of her friends and the victim and two or more of his friends.
Police and witnesses have said the altercation began shortly after people sitting with Carson at the restaurant made anti-gay remarks toward the victim and people sitting with him.
D.C. police listed the case as an anti-gay hate crime. The U.S. Attorney’s office, which prosecutes criminal cases in D.C., did not classify the case as a hate crime, saying it makes such a determination at a later time in its prosecution of all cases designated as a hate crime by police.
A D.C. police affidavit filed in court at the time Carson was arrested on March 26 says investigators obtained from the IHOP restaurant a video recording of the altercation and the shooting, which took place next to the hostess stand near the restaurant’s lobby.
“An off-duty police officer intervened and separated the two parties from fighting,” the affidavit says.
“After the parties were separated, at the time stamped 06:27:17 to 06:27:20 on camera #6, Carson is seen standing near the window of the restaurant by what appears to be a hostess stand and firing a single shot that struck the complainant,” says the affidavit. “The complainant appears to grab his right abdomen and stumble back and fall to the ground. Carson and the male subject then fled out of the restaurant,” it says.
A police charging document says a single bullet from the shooting lodged in the victim’s liver. Although the victim was treated and released from the Med Start Unit at Washington Hospital Center “the bullet has not been removed from the complainant’s liver because of the risk of complications involved in an operation to that vital organ,” the charging document says.
The arrest affidavit says Carson admitted to shooting the victim when questioned by police shortly before her arrest.
At a March 29 court hearing, attorney Christmas told another judge that Carson was pregnant and was experiencing a pregnancy-related medical problem. He asked that Carson be released under strict supervision. Judge Diana Harris Epps denied the request and ordered Carson held without bond pending a preliminary hearing.
At the hearing on Thursday, May 3, Christmas reiterated his earlier request that his client be released to home detention. This time Judge Sullivan, who is now presiding over the case, agreed to release Carson to home detention under the court’s High Intensity Supervision Program known as “HISP,” according to court records.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Dickie, the prosecutor in the case, expressed opposition to the release, saying Carson could present a danger to the community.
A plea bargain offer by the U.S. Attorney’s office resulting in the lowering of the charge against Carson is likely to upset LGBT activists, who have raised objections in the past to decisions by the U.S. Attorney to lower charges in cases involving anti-gay violence.
Officials with the U.S. Attorney’s office have told activists in community meetings that the office must weigh the strength of the evidence and determine whether a jury is likely to hand down a conviction. If prosecutors don’t think they can obtain a conviction on a more stringent charge they sometimes must lower the charge to ensure that a person who committed a violent act receives some jail time rather than be released if a jury acquits the person, the officials have said.
Representatives of the local group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) have complained that the U.S. Attorney’s office appears reluctant to take cases involving anti-LGBT violence to trial even when evidence appears strong.
“We want to make sure that crimes against the LGBT community are prosecuted to the fullest extent,” said GLOV President A.J. Singletary.
Singletary noted that the U.S. Attorney’s office hasn’t explained why it charged Carson with aggravated assault while armed rather than attempted murder and why it so far has not charged her with a hate crime, which could lead to a longer prison sentence upon conviction.
He said GLOV would be further troubled if the office decides to lower the charge further in a plea bargain.