D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, and Deputy Police Chief Diane Groomes were among a contingent of city officials who joined about 100 participants Saturday night in a memorial remembrance for slain trans woman Deoni Jones.
Jones, 23, was stabbed to death Feb. 2, 2012 while sitting at a bus stop near her home at East Capitol Street and Sycamore Road, N.E. A 56-year-old District man was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder while armed in connection with Jones’ murder.
As participants in Saturday’s memorial assembled next to the bus stop where the murder occurred exactly one year earlier, Earl Fowlkes, president of the gay rights group Center for Black Equity, introduced Jones’ family members, who organized the event.
“First of all, they could have stayed private, which would be understandable to heal, to seek justice, and to grieve,” Fowlkes said. “But instead, they joined with the LGBT community and stayed with the LGBT community in their time of pain to show that we cannot tolerate violence in our community.”
Alvin Bethea, Jones’ stepfather, told the gathering he and his family were deeply moved by the support they have received from the LGBT community as well as from Mayor Gray and the police and fire departments, which he said responded quickly to the scene where Deoni Jones was attacked.
“President Obama put the country on notice that discrimination against the GLBT community is wrong,” he said, adding that many in the D.C. community were following Obama’s message of equality for all citizens.
But Bethea said he and his family were troubled that the U.S. Attorney’s office has declined their repeated calls for classifying Jones’ murder as a hate crime. He called on the city and the LGBT community to join his family’s efforts to persuade the prosecutor in charge of the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gorman, to add a hate crime designation to the charge against defendant Gary Montgomery, whom D.C. police arrested eight days after the murder.
Bethea said the family plans to file a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal and civil rights divisions requesting an investigation into the handling of the case by the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office said the office has a policy of not commenting on criminal cases currently before the courts.
In charging documents, police and prosecutors said that a video recording of the incident obtained from a nearby video surveillance camera shows that the person who stabbed Jones took her purse immediately after the stabbing and walked from the scene with the purse in his possession.
The charging documents say the assailant shown on the video recording, which witnesses have identified as Montgomery, dropped the purse after a witness shouted and chased after him. A police arrest affidavit says that the suspect escaped from the scene and remained at large until D.C. police apprehended him eight days later.
Jones’ friends and family members have said they believe the true motive was hatred toward a transgender person rather than robbery. At the time of Montgomery’s arrest, a police investigator said police were considering the possibility that the incident was a hate crime.
When asked about the family’s and community’s concerns over the lack of a hate crime designation to the case, Gray told reporters after the memorial ended that he would ask the D.C. Attorney General’s office to look into the matter.
“I think there ought to be a clear indication of why or why not this is viewed or not viewed as a hate crime,” Gray said. “The family clearly is not satisfied. And I think we all owe it to them to give a clear explanation over why the direction of the case is proceeding the way it is.”
Gray added, “We can get our attorney general to make a statement to the U.S. Attorney’s office to say we want a clear determination on this situation. And let the family have peace on this because they clearly are still very restive about this whole situation.”
Others who spoke at the memorial included D.C. Council members David Catania (I-At-Large) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7); Groomes and Ellerbe; Sterling Washington, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs; Hassan Naveed, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence; and Brian Watson of Transgender Health Empowerment.