A D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday sentenced a 29-year-old woman to six-and-a-half years in prison for the March 2012 non-fatal shooting of a gay man inside an International House of Pancakes restaurant in the city’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.
The sentencing by Judge Michael Ryan came three months after a jury found Lashawn Yvonne Carson, a D.C. resident, guilty of aggravated assault while armed and six additional firearms-related charges.
During the four-day trial prosecutors played for the jury a video obtained from the restaurant’s security cameras that they said showed Carson, then 28, pull out a handgun and shoot Dante Thomas in the chest.
Thomas has since recovered from a gunshot wound to his liver that the lead prosecutor said could have been fatal if he had not received immediate medical treatment at a nearby hospital.
Police and prosecutors said an altercation leading to the shooting began when two groups of friends were eating at separate tables near one another at the IHOP restaurant about 5:30 a.m. on March 11, 2012.
According to a police affidavit and testimony by witnesses, one of Carson’s friends while sitting at her table used the word “faggot” to describe one or more of the men sitting at Thomas’s table. A short time later a physical altercation erupted between the two groups when Thomas attempted to walk to the cash register to pay his bill.
“Carson and a male friend inadvertently stood directly in his way,” a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s office says. “The victim attempted to squeeze by and accidently bumped into Carson. Words were exchanged and the defendant’s male friend used a homophobic slur,” the statement says.
Government witnesses at the trial said a fight then broke out between the opposing groups of friends and an off-duty D.C. police detective who was seated nearby stepped in to break it up.
“At that point, according to the government’s evidence, Carson walked over, adjusted her hair, pulled out a firearm and shot the victim once in the chest,” the U.S. Attorney’s statement says.
A police charging document says Carson and her male friend fled the restaurant.
Prior to her arrest about two weeks later, hundreds of LGBT activists and their supporters assembled outside the IHOP restaurant to begin a march through the streets from Columbia Heights to Dupont Circle to protest the IHOP shooting and other incidents of violence targeting LGBT people in the city.
Although police initially listed the shooting incident as an anti-gay hate crime, the U.S. Attorney’s office dropped that designation. Sources familiar with the case said the U.S. Attorney’s office believed there was insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction for a hate- or bias-related shooting.
During closing arguments, Carson’s lawyer argued that Carson testified at the trial that she is bisexual and expressed disapproval at the table where she and her friends were sitting when one of the friends used the anti-gay slur to describe the men sitting at the victim’s table.
Carson denied she shot Thomas and testified she was drunk when police questioned her about the incident. She said detectives questioning her talked her into falsely admitting she shot Thomas. A video of her admission was played for the jury in which she told detectives she shot Thomas because he hit her and she became angry.
According to court records, Ryan sentenced Carson to additional time for several of the other charges on which she was convicted, including possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and carrying a pistol without a license. But he ordered that most of the additional time be served concurrently, resulting in a sentence to a total of 6-and-a-half years in prison.
The judge ordered that she be placed on three years of supervised release upon completion of her prison term.