The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Thursday decided against prosecuting transgender activist Jes Grobman for allegedly assaulting a police officer at the site of a trans rights demonstration in which protesters blocked evening rush hour traffic at 14th and Irving Streets, N.W.
The D.C. Attorney General’s Office, however, is moving forward with prosecuting Grobman for a second charge brought against her by D.C. police — failure to obey a lawful order to discontinue blocking traffic at the bustling intersection in the city’s Columbia Heights business district.
The decision by police to arrest Grobman, 22, during a demonstration aimed at drawing attention to the abuse of trans people by law enforcement agencies across the country drew shouts of outrage by several dozen trans activists and their supporters, who had assembled about 5:30 p.m. at the sidewalk plaza of the Columbia Heights Metro station.
“This arrest could have been avoided,” said trans activist Ruby Corado, who said she arrived on the scene after the arrest took place and spoke with many of the protesters who were still there.
“We have a good relationship with the officers in the neighborhood,” Corado said, referring to her work as founder and executive director of Casa Ruby, an LGBT community services center located a few blocks away. “In this case, the police escalated the situation. Something didn’t add up.”
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and police spokesperson Lt. Sean Conboy didn’t respond to a request by the Washington Blade for comment.
A police arrest affidavit filed in court by the arresting officer, Christophe Wickham, says organizers of the protest told police in advance that the group would remain on the promenade and would not be marching in the streets.
Wickham said in the affidavit that when the protesters stepped off the sidewalk and onto the street traffic became blocked in three directions. He said officers with the department’s Special Operations Division, which specializes in patrolling protest demonstrations, immediately began diverting traffic to surrounding streets.
He says in the affidavit that he singled out Grobman because she allegedly deliberately interfered with his attempt to redirect traffic that was stuck between the protesters and a route where the cars could leave the area.
“While assisting with traffic flow, Defendant 1, with intent, stepped in to the path of the traffic I was attempting to free up in an attempt to prohibit the movement of the trapped motorist,” the affidavit says.
“I then placed my hand upon Defendant 1 and advised Defendant 1 that for her safety she needed to move out of the path of vehicle and allow it to exit the area. I then began to free traffic up again around the demonstrators at which time Defendant 1 once again stepped into the path of the vehicle following the first vehicle in an attempt to block its escape,” the affidavit says.
Wickham says in the affidavit that he advised the defendant, who was later identified as Grobman, “multiple times” to stay clear of the moving vehicles before he placed her under arrest.
According to his affidavit, he charged Grobman with assaulting him when she “chest bumped me from behind in a deliberate attempt to interfere and impede” his efforts to direct cars away from the protest site.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office reviewed this case and did not go forward with the charge of assault on a police officer,” Bill Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney, said in a statement to the Blade.
Miller said that as a policy the office doesn’t give reasons for making this type of charging decision.
Court records show that while the assault charge was dropped, the Office of the D.C. Attorney General decided to move ahead with prosecuting Grobman for the charge of disobeying a lawful order to discontinue blocking the street.
Records filed in D.C. Superior Court on Thursday show that a judge approved a plan to allow Grobman to enter a court diversion program. The program allows defendants to withhold entering a plea of guilty or not guilty and requires them to stay out of trouble for a period of time — usually six months. Upon successfully completing that period of time, the charge is dropped.
Records show that Grobman is scheduled to appear in court for a status hearing on the diversion designation on Nov. 25.
“I would just say that while she was fiercely exercising her right to freedom of speech she was prevented from doing that by being stopped and arrested,” said Grobman’s attorney, Christopher Mutimer. “And I’m proud to be here and stand up for her now,” Mutimer told the Blade on Friday.
Grobman’s arrest came during a week of activities associated with a Transgender Week of Action that culminated Friday night during the city’s annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, which commemorates trans people who lost their lives due to anti-trans violence.