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D.C. Jail guards accused of beating gay inmate

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A 39-year-old gay man being held in the D.C. Jail has accused jail guards of severely beating him last month, saying they carried him, handcuffed, down three flights of stairs while deliberately knocking his head against the walls and handrails.

The gay inmate, John Burrows, a D.C. resident, gave a detailed account of the incident to his mother and sister, who released the information this week to the DC Agenda.

“They handcuffed his hands behind his back and handcuffed his feet, picked him up and carried him down three flights of steps and in the process they were banging his head against the railings and into the wall,” said Margaret Groat, Burrows’ sister, in an e-mail.

“[T]hey beat him in the stairwell and choked him,” she said. “I think they were trying to kill him. He has two black eyes, a concussion; he still can’t feel three of his fingers from the handcuffs being so tight.”

A spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Corrections, which oversees the jail, said the Dec. 17 incident was under investigation and the department had no immediate comment.

“Please be advised that this matter is currently under investigation by the Department of Corrections,” said department spokesperson Sylvia Lane in an e-mail to the Agenda. “There is no further information available at this time.”

Groat said Burrows gave a detailed description of the incident in two letters he mailed to their mother, Judy Burrows. She said her brother noted in one of his letters that the beating may have been triggered when he threw a bar of soap at one of the guards after the guard “harassed” him.

According to Groat, jail officials have refused to allow her and her mother to contact John Burrows by phone and informed them that they could not visit him at the jail.

“They said they put him in protective custody and that he can’t have any visitors until Jan. 27 at the earliest,” Groat said.

Lane did not respond by press time to questions by the Agenda about why D.C. Jail officials placed Burrows in protective custody and have refused to allow his sister and mother to visit him.

Mafara Hobson, a spokesperson for Mayor Adrian Fenty, said she would look into the matter. But she added, “Ms. Lane is correct in that the matter is under investigation, so we can’t comment further on the incident.”

When informed about Burrows’ alleged jail beating, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who chairs the Council committee that oversees the jail and Department of Corrections, said he, too, would make inquires to learn more about what happened.

Court records show that Burrows is being held in jail without bond on felony charges of first-degree sexual abuse and robbery of a senior citizen in connection with an October 2008 encounter with a D.C. man over age 60. The records show that Burrows was arrested for the two offenses in September while he was incarcerated in an out-of-state prison for an unrelated theft charge, to which he pleaded guilty.

A D.C. Superior Court charging document says the two charges for which Burrows is currently being held were filed against him by a man who told police he engaged in consensual oral sex acts with Burrows on Oct. 5, 2008, in the man’s Northwest Washington apartment. The man, who is listed as the complainant in the case, told police he paid Burrows $100 in cash after the sexual encounter for the purpose of having Burrows use the money to purchase marijuana for the man, according to the charging document.

The next day Burrows returned. But the man said that instead of handing over the marijuana, Burrows grabbed him in a “choke hold,” bound him “by ligatures,” and forced him into his bedroom, according to the charging document. It says the man told police that Burrows then sexually abused the man before stealing $100 in cash and his ATM card. The man told police that Burrows pressured him into revealing the PIN number for the card.

The charging document says police obtained surveillance video from the complainant’s bank showing Burrows making an illegal withdrawal of $500 with the use of the complainant’s ATM card.

Margaret Groat, Burrows’ sister, acknowledged that her brother has a substance abuse problem and a record of arrests on drug and theft-related charges, all of which, she said, were non-violent offenses. Groat said her brother denies assaulting or sexually abusing the complainant in the case pending against him.

Premal Dharia, an attorney with the D.C. Public Defender Service who is representing Burrows, did not return calls seeking comment on the alleged jail beating or the criminal charges pending against her client.

According to Groat, her brother said the sexual encounters between Burrows and the complainant were entirely consensual. She said her brother told her a dispute arose over a prior agreement that the complainant would pay Burrows for the sex and that Burrows may have taken some money for the payment he believed he was owed. She said the complainant had requested to be bound as part of a pre-arranged “bondage” encounter, according to her brother’s account of what happened.

“Whatever he did or didn’t do in terms of his arrest, he didn’t deserve to be beaten in jail,” Groat told the Agenda in a telephone interview. “He’s had problems and issues with the law, but I can tell you that he’s not a violent person.”

Groat said she contacted the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance and the D.C. LGBT community center about her brother’s allegation that he was the victim of a prison beating by guards.

“We have been in touch with the family and we’re following this closely,” said David Mariner, executive director of the LGBT Center. “This raises concerns.”

Court records show that Burrows was scheduled to appear in D.C. Superior Court on Thursday, after the Agenda press deadine, for a status hearing and possible discussion of a plea bargain offer by the government.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Mykelb

    January 6, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    From the description of this person’s past, I wouldn’t trust this report of violence by the cops.

  2. shirly

    January 7, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    well maybe you should open your eyes and realize the law is not always on our side and people are beaten everyday like this and its people like you who turn your back and allow these guards to get away with this. so maybe you should re think your reply and get your head out of your ass.

  3. DEE

    January 7, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    First of all no one said the cops did this, these were prison guards and they beat prisoners all the time, this is not an isolated incident and it is against the law. They broke the law just like John did and should be punished by being put in jail themselves. No matter what someone’s past is or what they are in jail for this does not give them the right to beat someone near death. No matter what he did in the jail or to the guards once he was restrained that should of have been the end of it. You do not get to break the law just because you are a prison guard. They did this because John is white and gay, this was a hate crime.

  4. DCV

    January 8, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    All sounds so fishy…first, the alleged assault and robbery happened in 10/08 around 3:00 a.m. … and both the victim and defendant engaged in consensual oral sex, then 79 year old victim gives defendant $100 to buy illegal drugs…then now in 2009, charges are being filed?…the victim knew the defendant for more than 10 years so he clearly knew what kind of person he was fraternizing with…smells like a rat…is the victim scorned?…and as far as the police brutality (however wrong it may be), it sounds like the defendant provoked it…

  5. Michael

    January 9, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Let me see if I understand this. An inmate of the D.C. Jail, injured in an altercation with guards on December 17, is being held in “protective custody” and is not able to have visitors (or one presumes be seen or have his injuries seen or photographed) “until Jan. 27 at the earliest”? Excuse me? I don’t care if this guy is a hustler, a drug addict, a thief or whatever. We fought to put and end to this sort of thing decades ago. It seems to me tha tin a lot of ways, things are going backwards rather than forwards in the District.

  6. Mike Dale

    January 12, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    He looks like a guy whom was once very handsome, or cute in the “gay” sense, if i wanted to be unkind, I’d say he looks like a used hustler.

    I know, I am one, I stole and cheated my way through life. I was in and out of jail…everybody whose ever had any experience with the prison system, knows how to act, and you don’t throw soap at the guard because he or she said something you don’t like.

    The best way to obtain justice, is to stay out of it’s way ? I’ve been married for 10 years to a guy whom was prosecuted for stealing an ice cream cup, he was transported 75 KM to face trail, and was placed on probation for 2 years ( we’re in Canada, although I’m American )

    My partner has a mental disability, schizophrenia, my point is this. Life is very complicated, you have to choose your battles, and some battles are lost before the first shot is fired.

    Use your eyes, the man in the photograph, has frittered his life away, by the looks of his mouth he has no teeth….choose your battles, let this guy learn the hard way, or die.

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Monika Nemeth to run for Ward 3 D.C. Council seat

First known trans elected official in city

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ANC Rainbow Caucus, Monika Nemeth, gay news, Washington Blade
Monika Nemeth, the first known trans person to win election to public office in D.C., is running for Council.

Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Monika Nemeth, who became the first known transgender person to win election to public office in D.C. when she won her ANC seat in 2018, says she plans to run as a Democrat for the Ward 3 D.C. Council seat currently held by incumbent Democrat Mary Cheh.

Nemeth is a former president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which recently changed its name to the Capital Stonewall Democrats. She currently serves as chair of the ANC Rainbow Caucus, which advocates for LGBTQ issues. She holds the seat for ANC 3F 06, which represents the neighborhoods of North Cleveland Park and Wakefield.

Nemeth’s LinkedIn page says she has worked for more than 25 years in the Information Technology field. She says she currently manages a team of software developers for an IT company.

“Yes, I am planning a run for Ward 3 D.C. Council in 2022,” Nemeth told the Washington Blade. “I will be running as a Democrat, so I plan to be on the Democratic primary ballot,” she said. “I will pursue the public finance option for my campaign.”

When asked what she would do differently from Cheh, who is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights and who is expected to run for re-election, Nemeth said only that she will announce her platform at the time she formally announces her candidacy, which she expects to happen in early September.

Cheh was first elected to the D.C. Council in 2006. She is an attorney and tenured professor of constitutional law at George Washington University Law School.

The Washington City Paper has reported that at least one other candidate is considering running against Cheh for the Ward 3 Council seat – Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority attorney Petar Dimtchev. Dimtchev received the Washington Post endorsement when he ran unsuccessfully against Cheh in 2018 as an independent, according to the City Paper.

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UDC hit with anti-trans discrimination complaint

University accused of misgendering student

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Emma Alexandra accuses UDC of misgendering her and outing her to fellow students and faculty. (Photo courtesy Alexandra)

A female transgender student at the University of the District of Columbia on Aug. 2 filed a discrimination complaint against the university on grounds that it is violating the city’s Human Rights Act by continuing to use her legal name on school documents and class enrollment lists unless she obtains a legal name change.

Emma K. Alexandra, 28, a part-time student who was admitted to UDC in April, states in her complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights that she informed UDC officials that she was not ready to immediately undertake a legal name change. She states in her complaint that she has repeatedly asked that her chosen name alone be used on all documents and student lists that can be viewed by fellow students and professors.

She said she understands that her legal name may be needed for legal admissions and academic transcript related documents. But to her dismay, Alexandra told the Washington Blade, UDC officials put in place what they consider a compromise position that identifies her on all public university documents and student class lists by both her legal name and her chosen name.

She said the university began and currently continues to identify her by her male legal name with her preferred name written next to her legal name inside parentheses in this way: Legal First Name (preferred name Emma); Legal last name (preferred name Alexandra).

“This is an egregious solution,” Alexandra told UDC President Ronald Mason Jr. in a July 4 email. “This is the name that appears everywhere now,” she wrote Mason. “Most notable, it’s the name that was displayed to my fellow students and professor during the class I took this summer on Blackboard,” she said, which is an online site like Zoom on which UDC conducts classes.

“This effectively outed me as trans to every other student and my professor,” she told Mason. “I assume the same will continue when I go to campus in the fall and get an ID. My ID will have this name and out me to everyone I show it to,” she wrote. “This is completely unacceptable, disrespectful and dangerous.”

Alexandra said she currently works full time as a Web Application Architect for Bloomberg Industry Group as part of its News Engineering team. She said the company is fully accepting of her using her chosen name without obtaining a legal name change. She said she has enrolled at UDC to take courses she needs to qualify for applying to medical school to fulfill her dream of becoming a psychiatrist.  

Under longstanding procedures, the D.C. Office of Human Rights investigates discrimination complaints and usually calls on both parties to consider reaching a conciliation agreement over the complaint if possible. If conciliation cannot be reached, OHR makes a determination of whether probable cause exists that discrimination occurred in violation of D.C. law.

If such a determination is made, the case is sent to the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, which conducts a trial-like hearing that includes testimony by witnesses before it issues a ruling on the case.

In response to a question from the Blade about whether a refusal by a D.C. university to use a transgender person’s chosen name violates the Human Rights Act, OHR Director Monica Palacio said OHR cannot provide legal advice on such a question. But in a statement to the Blade, Palacio said for educational institutions, the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on 15 protected characteristics, including gender identity and expression.

OHR’s regulations related to educational institutions “prohibit creating a hostile environment which could include deliberately misgendering a student,” Palacio said. “If anyone believes the statute has been violated, they may file a complaint with OHR,” she said. “OHR investigations are confidential.”

Alexandra said she had yet to receive a direct reply to her email message to Mason as of early this week. But last week she was contacted by phone by an official from the university’s admissions office and from Dr. William Latham, UDC’s Chief Student Development and Success Officer on behalf of Mason.

According to Alexandra, the two explained that her legal name was needed on certain legal documents. She said Latham explained that a software system the university uses to manage student records known as the Banner system, doesn’t support preferred names and currently prevents the school from displaying only her preferred name.

The officials said the university planned to upgrade to a newer version of Banner in October and the new system “may” support using preferred names, Alexandra said.

“Overall, I thought this was a really ridiculous conversation where folks from UDC tried to convince me that they are using my preferred name while also stating that they cannot use my preferred name as it should be used, mostly due to limitations of software,” Alexandra told the Blade. “I don’t think the Human Rights Act has an exception for software systems,” she said.

The Blade contacted UDC President Mason by email on July 20, asking him to comment on Alexandra’s concerns and asking him what, if any, problems would be caused if the university used Alexandra’s chosen name rather than her legal name on the various public, external documents and lists in which her legal name is being used.

“In response to your July 20 email, the Office of the Registrar can enter the student’s preferred name in Banner (via all access screen for faculty and staff awareness), however all official documents, such as the academic transcript, will require the use of the student’s official legal name,” Mason told the Blade in a one-sentence response.

His response didn’t address the issue raised by UDC official Latham in his phone conversation with Alexandra in which Latham said the Banner software system couldn’t currently identify Alexandra only by her chosen name. Mason also didn’t respond to the Blade’s question of why UDC could not adopt a policy like the D.C. Public Schools system, which accepts a request by transgender students to use their chosen name without having to obtain a legal name change.

Alexandra, meanwhile, points out that UDC’s refusal so far to allow her chosen name alone to be used on all public university documents and student lists without her legal name being attached to it appears to be at odds with a May 4 open letter Mason released to the university community expressing strong support for using the appropriate pronouns for transgender and gender non-conforming students.

“The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) strives to be an inclusive campus that supports and values all members of our community, including LGBTQIA+, nonbinary, intersex and gender non-conforming students,” Mason says in his letter.

“Choosing to not use or ignore the pronouns someone has requested you to use implies that person shouldn’t and doesn’t exist and does not deserve respect,” Mason wrote in his letter. “Therefore, we encourage all faculty and staff to use pronouns in their email signatures as an act of solidarity and to foster a culture of respect for every Firebird,” he concludes in referring to the symbolic name used for members of the UDC community.

UDC is governed by a 15-member independent Board of Trustees. Eleven of the members are appointed by the D.C. mayor and confirmed by the D.C. Council. Three are appointed by UDC alumni and one by students, according to information on the UDC website.

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LULAC Lambda announces 2021 scholarship awards

Castro, Javier Rodriguez win $1,000 honors

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Brian Castro and Victor Javier Rodriguez are this year’s LULAC award winners.

The D.C.-based LGBTQ Latinx organization LULAC Lambda has announced it has selected two D.C. residents bound for graduate studies in foreign affairs and higher education to receive its 2021 annual scholarship award.

“For a fourth year in a row, LULAC Lambda will provide scholarships to outstanding scholars who come from our LGBTQ+ Latinx community,” said Erik Rodriquez, the LULAC Lambda president, in a statement released by the group. “Our scholarship program will help these scholars achieve their academic goals and reduce their student debt,” Rodriquez said.

The statement says one of the two scholarship awards, for $1,000, will go to Brian Castro, who will begin studies for a master’s degree in the fall of 2021 at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

“The generous scholarship provided by LULAC Lambda will complement my studies by going directly into my tuition costs,” Castro said in the statement. “Though I have been a resident of Washington, D.C., working full-time at a leading public health consulting firm, I am grateful to have received the support from an organization that is also committed to social justice,” he said.

The other scholarship, for $1,300, will go to Victor Javier Rodriguez for his doctoral work in education at Florida State University. The LULAC Lambda statement says Javier Rodriquez’s academic interest lies in “exploring the relationship between school communities and districts’ implementation of anti-racist practice and student success.”

In his own words, Javier Rodriquez said, “A long-term career goal of mine is to affect change at the federal level through the United States Department of Education, in which I would work to address our nation’s education crisis by advocating for equitable policies and practices that improve the outcome for all our students, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

LULAC Lambda says it was founded in October 2014 “to mobilize and strengthen the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities of Washington, D.C. through community and civic engagement.” It is one of 1,000 chapters across the country affiliated with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s largest and oldest Latinx volunteer-based civil rights organization, the group’s statement says.

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