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D.C. police move to block testimony in Wone civil trial

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The ongoing criminal investigation into the 2006 murder of attorney Robert Wone inside the Dupont Circle area home of three gay men could be harmed if attorneys for the men are allowed to force homicide detectives to testify for the defense at an upcoming civil trial on the Wone case.

That was the argument made by Assistant D.C. Attorney General Patricia Bonkor on Tuesday on behalf of police officials at a D.C. Superior Court status hearing in the $20 million wrongful death lawsuit that Wone’s wife, Kathy Wone, has brought against the gay men.

Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward were found not guilty in a criminal trial in 2009, in which they faced charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and evidence tampering in connection with Wone’s murder. Authorities did not charge the men or anyone else with the murder, and D.C. police say they are continuing their investigation.

Many court observers believe police and prosecutors hope to charge one or all of the three gay defendants with the murder if new evidence surfaces in their investigation. With that specter hanging over their heads, the three defendants have invoked their Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify in the civil case on grounds that such testimony could violate their constitutional protection against self-incrimination.

In Tuesday’s status hearing, Donkor said attorneys representing the men filed a subpoena calling for the court to force at least four homicide detectives to testify, first through pre-trial depositions and possibly at the trial itself, without specifying what questions they plan to ask the detectives.

She told Judge Michael Rankin, who is currently presiding over the civil case, that disclosure of any information that had not be disclosed in the criminal trial would be highly damaging to the ongoing police probe into Wone’s murder.

Benjamin Razi, the lead attorney representing Kathy Wone in the civil case, told Rankin his client isn’t taking sides in the dispute over the police testimony, saying, “We don’t have a dog in this fight.”

But Razi reiterated his longstanding concern that the defendants’ refusal to testify or submit to depositions on all questions posed by the plaintiff oversteps the bounds of the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and amounted to an obstruction of Mrs. Wone’s ability to shed light on what happened on the night her husband was found stabbed to death in the guest bedroom at the defendants’ townhouse on Swann Street, N.W.

Rankin cut Razi off, saying those issues would be decided later. He directed defense attorneys to cooperate with Donkor and D.C. police officials in seeking to reach an agreement over what the detectives would be asked if he eventually allows the defense to question them in depositions or at the trial. He scheduled a follow-up hearing on the matter for May 5.

The Wone civil trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 7.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Oh, Please

    April 21, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Please, spare us from any further coverage of this case. The trio was acquitted, and we don’t want to read about it anymore. I am sorry for his death, but this ongoing saga is not something that the Blade needs to cover.

  2. bob

    April 22, 2011 at 3:46 am

    but are they gay?

  3. Marc

    April 22, 2011 at 11:41 am

    My guess is thar MPD is sending a signal of something “critical” that will be revealed, may be sending a schock wave, at the jury trial. It is typical when law enforcement officers and law practitioners are handling “sensitive,” “confidential” and “privilege” that no one wants to “spill the bean.”

  4. jd

    April 23, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Hey ‘Oh Please”, oh please shut up and turn the page if you don’t want to read coverage of this case. The Blade is serving its readers — who want even more coverage of this case.

  5. Marc

    April 25, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    I also hope Blade covers May 5th Stat Hearing. We want to hear the results and what goes on inside the courtroom from you.

  6. Nelson

    April 27, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I read from WhoMurderedRobertWone.com recently to get details of the hearing but I can not believe that people there are fighing other people to “get off that website.” What is wrong with that website? Why are they full of people who are so defensive and readly to bite your head off, of not beat you up so you don’t go there again?

    Has anyone have seen that website chewing up other people before? I saw some f..k words flying around even by the editor, Craig Brownstein. Why can’t they get a hold of themselves instead of “controlling the world around them?”

  7. Greg

    May 22, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    This is a perfectly legitimate topic for the Blade to cover, to respond to the guy who said he was tired of hearing about it. Of course the three “perps” in their s&m, “non-tradtional marriage” (i.e. polygamous relationship), let by the lawyer “principal perp” Joe Price, believe they have outwitted the febrile DC police, prosecutors and FBI by splashing bleach over the entire crime scene before the police arrived (future perps take note). And they have.

    So now the goal is to utilize the best criminal attorneys the DC bar can provide, save their remaining assets and continue to dodge a murder wrap. No other reason to take the Fifth.

    Interesting after all these years no one in the amoral D.C. gay community has come forward to give some justice to Mr. Wone, whose life was snuffed likely by these three “heavy sleepers”.

    Keep the heat on and one day these three will pay for their crime and we won’t have to wait for the devil to take his own. You don’t think good lawyers cant help you beat a murder rap? Think again.

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Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate

More than 100 people attended ‘We ARE the People’ rally

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(Photo by Bob Ford)

A diverse crowd of 100 to 200 folks gathered at the Columbia Lakefront on Saturday to attend a rally to push back against censorship in the county’s public schools as well as homophobia and transphobia emanating from a group of conservative parents.

The rally called “We ARE the People” was organized in response to the comments and actions by members of a Maryland-based conservative group “We the People 2” that among other things are anti-masks, anti-vaccinations and are opposed to teaching racial history in the schools. They also oppose two books that are in Howard County Public Schools library shelves: “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.”

Speakers at a We the People 2 rally last month at an Elkridge warehouse condemned the books, which contain LGBTQ characters, as sexually explicit. The group later filed police reports against the Board of Education alleging the books constitute pornography with “graphic sexual content and materials being used and disseminated in public schools,” according to the group’s press release.  A flier announcing this action used the loaded terminology, “We must not allow our children to be abused and victimized.”

Among the speakers at the Elkridge rally was Republican Gordana Schifanelli who is running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Daniel Cox. Another speaker, George Johnson, a teacher from Baltimore City, was heard on a video of the event saying, “We’re doing God’s work because Marxism, homosexuality and transgenderism is the devil.”

In response, the pro-LGBTQ rally in Columbia announced the following:

We are taking a stance against hate in the community as we raise our voices in support of equity in our schools. Attacks on teachers and school staff have prompted us to stand united and drown out the noise.

In addition, We ARE the People states:

We stand for LGBTQ+ students and educational professionals

Teaching accurate history to our students

Supporting equitable practices in our schools

Providing students with relevant LGBTQ+ media through their school libraries

The two-hour rally, which was attended by several county council members, featured speakers representing a wide swath of community, educational, religious and political organizations. They included: Community Allies of Rainbow Youth (CARY), Black Lives Activists of Columbia (BLAC), Absolutely Dragulous, Howard County Schools, PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County, IndivisibleHoCoMd, Columbia Democratic Club, Howard Progressive Project, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (UUCC), HoCo Pride, Progressive Democrats of Howard County, and the Columbia United Christian Church.

Many of the speakers denounced the censorship of materials that are needed by many LGBTQ students. Genderqueer and non-binary students, they point out, are most vulnerable and need affirming literature to help with their development and self-acceptance. The speakers also decried hate speech, which has surfaced again, as well as the opposition to teaching history as it relates to race.

Others argued that the community must not sit back and take it from extremist groups.

“You are all defenders,” said Cynthia Fikes, president of the Columbia Democratic Club, in a fiery speech. “But to succeed a strong defense also needs a strong offense.”

The two books in question were recently the center of controversy in the Fairfax County (Va.) school system. The books were removed in September from the shelves of the high schools pending a comprehensive review following opposition from a parent at a school board meeting. It should be noted that both books were previous winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognize “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”  

The board established two committees consisting of parents, staff and students to assess the content of the books and make recommendations to the assistant superintendent of instructional services who would make the final determination.

One committee found that “Lawn Boy” includes themes that “are affirming for students” with marginalized identities. “There is no pedophilia in the book,” the committee added. The other committee found that “Gender Queer” depicts “difficulties non-binary and asexual individuals may face.” The committee concluded that “the book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.” The books were restored to the shelves.

“As this backlash against LGTBQ+ literature demonstrates, we must be ready to stand up and defend the progress we have made,” said Jennifer Mallo, member of the Howard County Board of Education, expressing her own point of view. “We must ensure our elected officials understand and share our values and will fight for our marginalized students.”

The enthusiastic crowd was clearly pleased with the event.

“Today’s rally was meant to inspire our community to take action,” said Chris Hefty, who was the lead organizer of the rally and the emcee. “Action that protects our youth. Action that protects our educators and admins. This action comes in the form of advocacy, communication with elected officials so they know your voice, and through well informed voting to ensure those who represent us are those we know will support us. We shared a message of love, acceptance, and warmth.”

Hefty adds, “The unity we facilitated through this rally was a sight to behold. As the lead organizer I couldn’t have been more pleased! In the future we will be sure to better meet the needs of all our community members. We thank all those in our community for their support and feedback and look forward to accomplishing great things together moving forward.”

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action

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Rikki Nathanson

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] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January

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SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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