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Three teens charged in gay D.C. principal’s murder

Police say victim met killers through sex chat line

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Four people were arrested this week in connection with the murder of Brian Betts, the gay principal of Shaw Middle School in D.C. (Photo by Bel Perez Gabilondo; courtesy of D.C. Public Schools)

Three 18-year-old men who allegedly met gay D.C. middle school principal Brian Betts through a telephone sex chat line were arrested this week in connection with his shooting death, police said.

Alante Saunders, whom Montgomery County Police said had no fixed address, and Sharif Tau Lancaster, who lives along the 5300 block of Fifth Street, N.W., in D.C., were charged Monday with first-degree murder, armed robbery and the use of a handgun in a felony crime of violence.

Deonatra Q. Gray, who lives along the 1300 block of Southview Drive in Oxon Hill, Md., was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder, one count of armed robbery, and one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

“While the motive of the crime is still being investigated, we believe that it is most likely going to be robbery,” said Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger during a news conference Monday.

Betts, 42, was found shot to death April 15 in a second floor bedroom of his house in Silver Spring, Md. Police said they found his fully clothed body after colleagues at D.C.’s Shaw Middle School, where he worked as principal, became concerned when Betts failed to report to work.

On the day they discovered Betts’ body, investigators disclosed they found no signs of a forced entry into Betts’ house, leading them to believe he invited his killer or killers inside.

Also charged in the case was Artura Otey Williams, 46, Lancaster’s mother. Police she was arrested Monday at the home on Fifth Street, N.W., on charges related to her alleged use of one of several credit cards taken from Betts’ house. She was not charged with the murder itself.

In a related development, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles separately disclosed Monday that Lancaster and Sanders had recently escaped from a juvenile home where they were in custody by the city’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. Nickles did not say the criminal offense or offenses the two youths had been charged with to land them in DYRS custody.

Manger, when asked by a reporter at the Montgomery County Police news conference whether the chat line through which Betts allegedly met his killers catered solely to gay clientele, said, “I’m not aware of that. I don’t know.”

He said he also didn’t know the name of the chat line, saying only, “It’s been described as a sex chat line, a social networking chat line.” But he noted that investigators believe Betts met one or all of the three 18-year-old men implicated in the case through the chat line on the night he was murdered.

After the news conference, police spokesperson Capt. Paul Sparks described the system as a “national chat line” linked to an Internet site. Sparks said he didn’t know the name of the chat line or Internet site.

Many gay-oriented sex chat lines are advertised in local and national gay publications and web sites.

Manger’s news conference outside Montgomery County Police headquarters in Rockville came the same day that teams of police officers and detectives in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and D.C. used search warrants to conduct early-morning raids on four residences where they believed evidence and suspects in the case were located.

Manger said Williams was arrested during a search of her house on the 5300 block of Fifth Street, N.W.

He said Saunders, Lancaster and the third 18-year-old man were taken into custody during the search of an apartment along the 1300 block of Southview Drive in Oxon Hill, Md., which is located in Prince George’s County.

Among the items found during the Southview Drive search was Betts’ wallet, which was in possession of one of the men implicated in the case, Manger said. He noted that police found a receipt in the wallet for a pair of Nike shoes that were purchased using one of Betts’ credit cards shortly after the murder.

Police also used warrants Monday to search residences along the 4300 block of Third Street, S.E., in D.C., and along the 2400 block of Southern Avenue in Temple Hills, Md., in Prince George’s County.

Neighbors reported seeing police remove items from the residences, including several large bags containing items from the home on Fifth Street, N.W., which is near the border of D.C. and Silver Spring.

According to Manger and statements released Monday by Montgomery County Police, investigators began piecing together evidence linking the murder to the arrested suspects less than a week after Betts’ body was discovered.

The first break came when investigators discovered that Williams had used one of several credit cards stolen from Betts’ house on the night of the murder to purchase $111 worth of groceries from a Giant supermarket in Silver Spring on April 16, the day after Betts’ body was found. The Giant is located less than two miles from Betts’ house. Police said Williams was recorded using the credit card on a video surveillance camera at the store.

Police charged her with two counts of knowingly receiving a stolen credit card with the intent to use it, attempted theft of items less than $1,000 in value, and attempted fraudulent credit card use. She was being held in D.C. while awaiting extradition to Montgomery County.

“Lancaster was identified through fingerprints obtained from the crime scene inside Betts’ residence,” says one of two statements released Monday by Montgomery County Police.

“Through the course of the investigation, it was confirmed that Lancaster has no known ties to Betts,” says the statements. “Saunders, also with no known ties to the victim, was identified through fingerprints obtained inside and outside the vehicle belonging to Betts, a 2007 Nissan Xterra, which was stolen from his residence on the night of the murder.”

D.C. police recovered the vehicle April 17, two days after Betts was found dead in his house along the 3900 block of Fourth Street, S.E.

“It was determined that several credit cards belonging to Betts were stolen from the residence,” one of the police statements says. “The continuing investigation revealed that Betts’ credit cards were used to make purchases throughout the area, including Silver Spring, Oxon Hill, Hyattsville, Northwest and Southeast Washington, D.C.”

The statement notes that surveillance photos show Lancaster, Saunders and Williams using the credit cards.

“This remains still a very active investigation,” Manger said during his news conference.
In response to reporters’ questions, he said he didn’t know whether Lancaster, Saunders and Gray used the chat line to rob or harm other people. He also told reporters that he didn’t know what promoted one of the suspects to allegedly shoot Betts to death if the motive was robbery.

“The interviews have not been completed, so we don’t have that information,” he said.

Sparks, the police spokesperson, said more arrests could be made in the case.

Officials with the D.C. group Gays & Lesbians Opposing Violence have said that law enforcement agencies in the D.C. area should issue a public alert about criminals targeting gays for robberies and assaults through online social networking sites or phone chat lines.

GLOV co-chairs Kelly Pickard and Joe Montoni said during the group’s regular monthly meeting in April, one week after the Betts murder, that plans were made to distribute flyers and other alerts urging members of the LGBT community to exert caution when using such sites or chat lines.

On Dec. 27, gay D.C. resident Anthony Perkins, 29, was shot to death in his car in Southeast D.C. by a suspect who met him through a phone chat line, according to D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office. Authorities have so far declined to name the chat line.

D.C. police charged 20-year-old Antwan Holcomb with first-degree murder while armed in connection with Perkins’ death.

And in January, gay Maryland resident Gordon Rivers, 47, was fatally shot inside his car while it was parked on Naylor Road in Southeast D.C. Police later arrested 17-year-old William Wren of Southeast D.C. and 22-year-old Anthony Hager of Temple Hills, Md., on murder charges in connection with the case.

D.C. police said in an arrest affidavit that Wren admitted knowing Rivers before the murder and having called Rivers by phone to arrange a meeting with him on Naylor Road, intending to rob him.

Police and the U.S. Attorney’s office have declined to disclose how Wren met Rivers, spurring questions as to whether the two met online or through a phone chat line.

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District of Columbia

Wanda Alston Foundation chosen as Casa Ruby receiver

Judge approves move at recommendation of D.C. Attorney General

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June Crenshaw is the Wanda Alston Foundation’s executive director. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Friday, Aug. 12, appointed the Wanda Alston Foundation as the city’s receiver for the LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby in a role in which the Alston Foundation will assume full control over Casa Ruby’s operations and finances.  

Judge Danya A. Dayson stated in an order she issued at 2:27 p.m. on Friday that she appointed the Alston Foundation for the receivership role at the recommendation of the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which asked the judge to place Casa Ruby in receivership in a court motion filed on Aug. 3.

Founded in 2008, the Wanda Alston Foundation provides housing and support services for D.C. homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth ages 18 to 24 and advocates for expanded city services for LGBTQ youth, according to a statement on its website.

During a virtual court hearing on Thursday, Aug. 11, Dayson approved the AG office’s request to place Casa Ruby under receivership. During the hearing, Adam Gitlin, chief of the AG office’s Public Integrity Section, announced that the AG office had two organizations under consideration for the Casa Ruby receiver – the Alston Foundation of D.C. and the Baltimore-based LGBTQ services organization Safe Haven, which has announced it planned to open a facility in D.C.

Gitlin asked the judge if the AG’s office could have one more day to make a final decision on which of the two groups should be named as the Casa Ruby receiver, and Dayson granted his request.

Among those who spoke at the Aug. 11 hearing was June Crenshaw, the Wanda Alston Foundation’s executive director. Crenshaw told the judge her organization has long supported the mission of Casa Ruby and it was prepared to do all it could to continue that mission in its role as receiver.

In a seven-page order issued on Aug. 12 approving the AG’s recommendation that the Alston Foundation be appointed as receiver, Dayson restated her earlier findings that the AG’s office provided sufficient evidence that a receivership was needed. Among other things, she pointed to the AG office’s allegations that Casa Ruby and its founder and former executive director Ruby Corado violated the District’s Nonprofit Corporations Act. 

“The District alleges in its petition that Defendant violated the Act by failing to maintain a lawfully constituted Board of Directors, failing to maintain control and oversight of the Corporation; permitting Ruby Corado, the executive director, to have exclusive access to bank and PayPal accounts held in the name of, or created to benefit, Casa Ruby; and permitting Corado to expend hundreds of thousands of dollars of nonprofit funds without Board oversight and for unknown reason,” Dayson stated in her order.

“Accordingly, it is on this 12th day of August 2022 hereby ORDERED that the District’s motion for appointment of a receiver is GRANTED, and it is FURTHER ORDERED that until further order of this court, the Wanda Alston Foundation, Inc., 1701 Rhode Island Avenue, N.W., 2nd Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036 (the “Receiver”), is hereby appointed as Receiver,” Dayson declared.

Dayson stated in her Aug. 12 order that she has “hereby lifted” her Aug. 3 order granting the AG office’s request that Casa Ruby’s bank accounts and all financial assets be frozen. The Aug. 12 order states that the receiver will now have full control over the bank accounts and Casa Ruby assets.

But the judge adds in her latest order, “Notwithstanding the lifting of the August 3, 2022, freezing Order, Ruby Corado shall not regain access to the affected accounts.”

In addition, Dayson “further” states in her Aug. 12 order that Casa Ruby’s “trustees, directors, officers, managers, or other agents are hereby suspended and the power of any directors or managers are hereby suspended. Such persons and entities shall have no authority with respect to Casa Ruby’s operations or assets, except to the extent as may hereafter be granted by the Receiver.”

The order concludes by directing the receiver to prepare a written report to the court by Sept. 13, 2022, on these issues:

• Assessment of the state of Casa Ruby’s assets and liabilities

• Identification of potential D.C. grant funds that could still be accessed if Casa Ruby met the grant requirements and how Casa Ruby could meet those requirements

• Determine whether Casa Ruby can pay outstanding financial obligations, including but not limited to employees, landlords, and vendors

• A recommendation regarding whether Casa Ruby’s Board should be reconstituted, and it should resume providing services, or instead whether Casa Ruby should be dissolved in an orderly manner pursuant to D.C. Code.

Corado also spoke at the Aug. 11 virtual hearing through a telephone hookup. Among other things, she said she does not oppose the appointment of a receiver.

But Corado disputed the AG office’s allegations against her and Casa Ruby, claiming the group’s financial problems that resulted in its shutdown of most Casa Ruby programs were caused by the D.C. government’s decision to discontinue many but not all city grants providing funding for Casa Ruby.

In its court filings, the AG’s office has disputed Corado’s claims, saying the city grant funds for many of Casa Ruby’s programs were suspended or discontinued because Casa Ruby failed to comply with the grant requirements that all city grantees are obligated to comply with.

“The mission of the Wanda Alston Foundation is to eradicate homelessness and poverty for LGBTQ youth between ages 18 and 24, the group states on its website. The statement adds that the Alston Foundation seeks to accomplish that mission by advocating for LGBTQ youth by “providing programs including housing, life skills training, case management services, linkages to medical care and mental health care and other support services, support in staying and returning to school, and employment support.”

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District of Columbia

Another gay couple assaulted in D.C. in suspected hate crime

Two men holding hands when hit from behind by group of attackers

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Chuck Johnson (left) and J.P. Singh were assaulted in June. (Photo courtesy the couple)

A gay male couple informed the Washington Blade this week that they were assaulted by a group of young men on June 17, at least of one of whom shouted the word “faggots,” while the couple was holding hands walking home on the 1500 block of T Street, N.W. a few doors away from their house.

One of the two men suffered a broken jaw and fractured thumb when two or three of the attackers punched and kicked him in the head and face after knocking him to the ground, according to a D.C. police report that lists the incident as a suspected anti-gay hate crime.

The incident took place about six weeks before another gay male couple was attacked and punched in the head and face by a group of young males appearing in their late teens as at least one of them shouted “monkeypox faggots.” The incident occurred on Aug. 7 along the 1700 block of 7th Street, N.W. in the Shaw neighborhood as the men were walking to a nearby bus stop.

D.C. police, who have released photos of two suspects in the Aug. 7 incident and a photo of one suspect in the June 17 case, say no arrests have been made in either of the cases but both cases remain under active investigation.

The two victims in the June 17 case identified themselves as J.P. Singh, Professor of Global Commerce and Policy at George Mason University, and Charles D. “Chuck” Johnson Jr., CEO and President of the Aluminum Association industry trade organization. They initially identified themselves in a little-noticed article about the incident that they wrote and published on June 23 in the blog Medium in which they also posted a photo of themselves.   

“We, JP and Chuck, are a middle-age interracial gay couple,” the two wrote in the article. “We have been together for nearly 27 years, and live in a gay neighborhood in Washington, DC.  On Friday, June 17, while walking back from the gym at 10 p.m. and holding hands, a group of young African American men assaulted us on our street,” the two wrote.

Their article goes on to explore issues surrounding racial justice and crime, and the possible impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on police response to crime, including anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, among other related issues.

 “Assaults like ours open wounds in our society around race and LGBTQ issues,” they state in the article. “Through writing this article, we want to emphasize context and healing, and not encourage racialized ways of thinking that we associate with divisive tactics.”

Singh told the Blade the incident began on T Street, N.W., steps away from their house and in front of the house of gay D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kyle Mulhull. He said a group of the attackers approached him and Johnson from behind and the couple didn’t see the attackers until they were struck with punches.

“Before we knew it, I heard Chuck yell,” Singh said. “And when I turned to him, I felt a punch on my ear.”

According to Singh’s account, the attackers ran toward 15th Street and Johnson ran after them presumably to be able to inform police of their location, with the intent that the attackers could be apprehended.

But Singh said that another group of attackers emerged from an alley and appeared to have joined the first group and began assaulting Johnson again. The D.C. police report says officers responding to a 911 call from Johnson arrived on the scene when Victim 1, who was Johnson, was observed at the intersection of 15th and U Streets, N.W.

“The officers observed that Victim 1 was bleeding from his mouth as a result of the assault,” the report says. The report says the officers call the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department for assistance.

“Victim 1 stated that he and Victim 2 were walking eastbound in the 1500 block of T St., N.W. when 4 to 8 suspects approached from behind and assaulted them with punches,” the report continues. “Victim 1 stated that at least one of the suspects yelled homophobic slurs at him as the assault was perpetrated.

Singh said he accompanied Johnson to the emergency room where he was treated and underwent surgery two days later to treat his jaw, which was broken in two places. Singh said Johnson was also treated for a fractured thumb.

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Comings & Goings

Brian Reach joins Arlington Food Assistance Center

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Brian Reach

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Brian Reach on his new position as Associate Director of Marketing and Communications of the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). Reach has more than 18 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and deep roots in Northern Virginia.  

Charles Meng, CEO of AFAC said, “I’m very pleased to have Brian Reach on our staff as we enter a new and very challenging year. A year when even more families suffering from inflation in food and fuel are coming to our doors seeking help.” 

Jolie Smith, director of development at AFAC added, “Brian will be a wonderful addition to the AFAC development team as we start our new year with a strong focus on new opportunities outside of Arlington County. Given his experience, he’ll be a significant part of our new growth and development.”  

Reach previously worked at MCI USA (formerly The Coulter Companies) in a number of positions including director of Information Systems and Credentialing. Before that he was with the Interstitial Cystitis Association as its nonprofit coordinator/accounts receivable coordinator; and the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, Fairfax, Va., as Education coordinator.

Reach is an activist and leader in the LGBTQ community. He currently serves as president and executive director of NOVA Pride, a 501c3 he founded in 2011, as well as on other LGBTQ boards and task forces. A Northern Virginia local, whose grandparents met at Fairfax High School, he is extremely passionate about the area and is personally dedicated to making an impact on the lives of his neighbors in need. He has worked on political campaigns in Virginia for Jennifer Wexton, Justin Fairfax, Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Kerry, Chap Peterson, and Al Gore.

Reach is currently attending George Mason University and was a business major at Northern Virginia Community College.

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