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D.C. Council candidate no longer opposes gay marriage law

Harry Thomas resignation triggers Ward 5 special election

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An outspoken advocate for placing D.C.’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot in a voter referendum in 2010 says he no longer holds that view and will express “respect” for the law as a candidate for the City Council in a special election this spring.

Civic activist Delano Hunter has announced plans to run for the Ward 5 Council seat that became vacant last week when incumbent Harry Thomas, a Democrat, resigned after pleading guilty to federal theft and tax evasion charges.

“I do not seek to overturn the Marriage Equality Act when elected,” Hunter told the Blade in a statement released on Tuesday.

“I will, however, continue to establish working relationships within the LGBT community to focus on issues that affect the quality of life for all residents of the District of Columbia,” he said.

Hunter unsuccessfully challenged Thomas in the September 2010 Democratic primary. He received the backing of anti-gay groups that opposed the same-sex marriage law. The D.C. Council approved the law in December 2009.

At the time, Hunter joined gay marriage opponents in calling for a voter referendum to overturn the law. The city’s election board ruled that the law could not be subjected to a referendum, saying doing so would violate the city’s Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The D.C. Superior Court, the D.C. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the election board’s ruling following a series of appeals by gay marriage opponents who challenged the election board’s decision.

In an exclusive Jan. 10 interview with the Blade, Hunter said that while groups opposed to same-sex marriage endorsed his candidacy in the 2010 Democratic primary, he focused his campaign on other issues, such as unemployment, crime and the high rate of HIV infection among residents of his ward.

Thomas, who supported the marriage law and opposed subjecting it to a referendum, defeated Hunter by a margin of 61 percent to 19 percent in the September 2010 primary.

Hunter said he now considers the marriage law a “settled issue” and has no intention of raising it as an issue in a special election to fill Thomas’s seat that is expected to take place in May.

“My stance is that I respect the Marriage Equality Act,” he told the Blade. “It gives individuals the right to marry whom they chose. But also it gives our religious institutions the right to ordain marriage according to their beliefs. So that is something that I’m in agreement with. It is settled. It is a moot point.”

Hunter said he did not take a position in 2010 and has no position now on whether the D.C. Council should or should not have passed the same-sex marriage law.

“My position was that residents should have the right to vote on this issue,” he said. “That was something that was approved by residents of our ward within a [Washington Post] straw poll…So for me, I said, OK, if folks want the right to discuss this through this method, we should do so.”

Hunter added, “Obviously, it was approved by the Council and the courts said it was not something that can be voted upon. And those are our elected representatives. They passed the law. It’s done.”

Thomas announced his resignation less than a day after federal authorities charged him with felony theft for allegedly embezzling more than $350,000 in government funds and filing false income tax returns with the IRS.

He pleaded guilty on Jan. 6 to one count of theft concerning city programs receiving federal funds and one count of filing a false tax return.

“I am resigning my position as a member of the Council effective immediately,” Thomas said in a statement released Jan. 5. “I made some very serious mistakes and exhibited inadequate and flawed judgment. I take full responsibility for my actions. I am truly sorry.”

Among those calling for Thomas’s resignation last fall, when news surfaced that he was about to be charged with an embezzlement related offense, were Robert Turner, president of the D.C. Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group; and Robert Kabel, the gay chair of the D.C. Republican Party.

Most gay Democratic activists who supported Thomas before news surfaced about his legal problems, including the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, did not join others in calling for his resignation.

Thomas drew praise from LGBT activists in 2009 when he voted for the city’s same-sex marriage law over strong objections from many of his Ward 5 constituents, who oppose same-sex marriage.

A large number of the ward’s residents are conservative African Americans who support civil rights related legislation but oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds. Clergy from black churches in the ward testified against the marriage bill during a contentious City Council hearing prior to the Council’s vote to approve the bill in December 2009.

The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage and other national groups opposed to same-sex marriage contributed tens of thousands of dollars for direct mail, robocalls, and racially divisive fliers attacking Thomas during his re-election campaign in 2010, according to Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way, an LGBT-supportive organization.

Right Wing Watch said some of the same anti-gay groups supported Delano Hunter’s race against Thomas but didn’t contribute large amounts of money directly to his campaign. NOM sent a mailer supportive of Hunter to residents of Ward 5 in 2010.

LGBT activists were quick to point out that the attack campaign against Thomas had little effect since he won re-election by a large margin.

Gay Republican Tim Day, a member of Log Cabin Republicans, ran against Thomas in the general election in November 2010 but lost by a lopsided margin in a ward that is overwhelmingly Democratic. Day hasn’t said whether he will run for the seat in the special election this year.

Other Democrats are expected to run in the special election for Thomas’s seat. LGBT advocates and gay residents of the ward will likely appeal to Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), who formerly held the Ward 5 seat, to back a candidate supportive of LGBT equality and same-sex marriage. Orange remains a popular figure in the Ward.

He opposed same-sex marriage at the time he held his Ward 5 seat and when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2006. But Orange changed his position shortly before he ran for the at-large Council seat in a special election, saying he now strongly supports civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

The Stein Club, which plans to endorse a Democratic candidate in the special election, issued a statement last week saying its members’ thoughts were with Thomas’s family and the residents of Ward 5.

“While we are saddened that someone who many in our community supported and had high hopes for fell short of our collective ethical expectations for public officials, our primary concern is with the residents and youth of Ward 5,” the Stein Club statement says. “We plan to stay engaged in the process to ensure that the next Ward 5 councilmember is both a strong supporter of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights and a person who holds himself or herself up to the highest ethical standards.”

 

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Peter Rosenstein

    January 11, 2012 at 11:17 am

    I would like him to not only say he won’t overturn it but to say he supports it – and pledge to not work to have the Catholic Church or other entities try to get around it in any way. He should also state that he will not seek or take support from homophobic groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) if we are truly to believe this conversion in his beliefs. This is a matter that is too important to so many people in the District of Columbia for him to not be specific on this issue of basic civil and human rights.

  2. Rick Rosendall

    January 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I’m glad that Mr. Hunter recognizes that our marriage equality law is settled; but as Peter Rosenstein notes, that leaves a number of questions unanswered. Years ago, another local homophobe, Rev. Anthony Evans, told me, “I don’t think you should be killed.” I appreciated the sentiment as far as it went, but I’m happy to say that the bar is set a bit higher here.

  3. Bob Summersgill

    January 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Peter Rosenstein makes excellent points. We deserve better than this from a DC Council candidate. Mr. Hunter does not say he respects the right of same-sex couples to marry, rather he says he respects the law. He does not suggest that his previous position was incorrect or that there is any problem with voting on peoples’ rights. There is no apology or atonement. He merely acknoledges that a law he does like passed, and he’s not going to oppose it.

  4. brian / ward 5

    January 12, 2012 at 5:16 am

    LGBT residents’ response in Ward 5 (per the BrooklandGLBT listserv and Ward5 listserv) to Lou’s story about Delano Hunter’s election-season “conversion” is nearly in unanimous agreement with Peter’s, Rick’s and Bob’s comments.

    But as you might imagine, Ward 5 LGBT residents’ opinions are a good bit stronger. Delano Hunter is just flatly unbelievable.

    Lou reported, “Hunter said he did not take a position in 2010 and has no position now on whether the D.C. Council should or should not have passed the same-sex marriage law.”

    Hunter’s assertion is just not true, and Ward 5 voters, LGBT and straight, know it. It’s only been 15 months. Who does Hunter and his backers think they’re kidding?

    Delano Hunter caught on video in 2010 (@ about the 42 second marker)…
    http://thekojonnamdishow.org/shows/2010-09-10/politics-hour
    –or–
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq72sutJw24&feature=email

    “I believe in traditional marriage, point blank. That’s not something I’m going to waffle on.”
    –Delano Hunter
    “The Politics Hour” w/ Kojo Nnamdi, September 10, 2010

    In addition, Lou noted NOM’s reported campaign efforts on Delano Hunter’s behalf.

    See NOM’s outrageous direct mail to Ward 5 residents on behalf of Delano Hunter in 2010 here…
    http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/nom-desperate-dc

  5. Barrie Daneker

    January 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    What Mr. hunter needs to do is support gay rights going forward and to suggest things that he will do to strengthen the laws and support for the community. Taking a new position at the 11th hr into order to appeal to a wider base of Ward 5 will do nothing for his campaign. In order to garner support in the upcoming election he would have to have some accomplishments towards advancing the LGBT agenda which he has nothing to show for the past 15 months. Mr. Hunter cannot count on support from Ward 5. We need concrete accomplishments and plans prior to giving support to a so called “reformed anti-gay” candidate. I will not be voting for Mr. Hunter and I would encourage my fellow Ward 5 residents to follow the lead of the various members of the LGBT caucus.

  6. John Novak

    January 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    The only reason Delano is changing course on this issue is because this election will likely see dismal turnout and most of those who will vote are politically and socially astute and a good portion of those astute voters are members of the LGBT community. If you alienate them now you simply never win this election. This has nothing to do with what he believes. It has everything to do with him saying what he thinks people want to hear. This is far to typical and smacks of the rhetoric and lies spewed by the Thomas camp throughout his corrupt administration in Ward 5. I hope the residents in Ward 5 can see through all this to the heart of the issues and pick a candidate that will cast aside the dishonest and unethical business as usual in Ward 5 politics and really focus on make the Ward a better place to live, work and visit.

  7. Stephen Clark

    January 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Let me be even more blunt than Rosenstein, Rosendall, and Summersgill: Nice try, bigot.

    Endorse marriage equality AND apologize for the disgusting NOM mailer.

  8. blue-heron

    January 12, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    I smell a strong odor of BS

  9. brian / ward 5

    January 13, 2012 at 12:51 am

    Some Ward 5 news…

    Since Lou’s story, there’s been lot of buzz in the ward. Former Council candidate, and highly vocal Marriage Equality opponent, Kathryn Pearson-West (aka, ‘KPW’) has quoted Lou’s story in full on the Ward5 Yahoo! listserv as a good reason to now support Delano Hunter. Pearson-West is now the autocratic moderator of the Ward5 listserv. To my knowledge, she has never renounced her anti-Marriage Equality position in 2009 and 2010. Last week she very deliberately announced– on the listserv that she moderates– that Delano Hunter was one of her favorite candidates to replace Thomas.

    Now, apparently, Pearson-West does not like the firestorm of disbelief and listserv criticism that has replied to her and responded to Lou’s story. This evening Pearson-West has threatened to “block” Ward5 listserv members who continue to criticize Delano Hunter’s candidacy– many of who are openly LGBT listserv members. She may do it, too, as Pearson-West quietly (and without any prior notice me), blocked my commentary on that listserv last week.

    Perhaps Kathryn Pearson-West thinks there are too many LGBT and their straight neighbor sympathizers voicing their opinions on the Ward5 listserv.

    As background … a lot of Ward 5’s LGBTs are taking another, more favorable look at Kenyan McDuffie. McDuffie ran for the Ward 5 seatMcDuffie is a former USDOJ civil rights attorney and experience working in Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office. McDuffie is, and has been a strong supporter of Marriage Equality in 2010.

    Here’s a copy and paste of Kathryn Pearson-West’s threatening response to ANC Commissioner Timothy Clark’s appeal for more fair listserv moderation, earlier this evening…

    =====
    — In [email protected], [email protected]… wrote:

    Re: [ward5] Kenyan McDuffie’s Bio & Resume

    As the moderator, I let this free for all go on and Hunter took the abuse. You opened the door. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I asked that people not attack potential candidates yet until people declared. No one wanted to listen or follow through. Moderation to be implemented so some will be blocked soon. Apparently Mr. McDuffie has a lot of supporters particularly on one issue and other candidates supporters are not as passionate with their attack mode.

    The moderator will moderate. I work alone and set the tone. Enjoy your evening.

    KPW


    —–Original Message—–
    From: timclarkdc
    To: ward5
    Sent: Thu, Jan 12, 2012 6:25 pm
    Subject: Re: [ward5] Kenyan McDuffie’s Bio & Resume

    I would expect you as the moderator to take a more balanced approach to this. Mr. Hunter is catching heat because of his actions last campaign season and his press release to the blade. This is something he brought on himself.

    It’s perfectly fine if you’ve chosen to support him, but calling on other candidates to be “molested” is a bit much.

    I think these exchanges show that such antics aren’t appreciated and won’t be tolerated in the ward. As Jamie said, not one of the people who’ve expressed anger and dislike for Mr. Hunter even mentioned Kenyan…

  10. Rick Rosendall

    January 13, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Of course it is a lie for Delano Hunter to deny having taken a position on whether the Council should pass a marriage equality law. It is a by-now-familiar ploy to claim that he was interested only in “letting the people vote.” First, his publicly expressed animus (and the proof) has already been noted. Second, the people have voted–they’re called elections. Article 4, Section 4 of the Constitution guarantees a republican form of government; there is nothing about a right to hold plebiscites. Additionally, putting people’s rights up for a popular vote is expressly forbidden by the D.C. Human Rights Act. In any case, marriage equality has popular support in the city and every candidate who has opposed it has been roundly defeated. Some of our opponents have asked, “If you are so confident that you would win a ballot measure, why not let the people vote?” The answer is that holding such a vote is not appropriate.

    The position that Mr. Hunter has staked out is too cute by half. If he is serious about changing his mind, let him come clean, admit to having been wrong, and go on record as supporting marriage equality and opposing the conducting of any plebiscite in which people’s rights are put to a popular vote. We have only thirteen seats in our city’s legislature. We cannot afford to fill one of them with someone who seeks to advance himself by collaborating with bigots from outside our city who seek to divide us. We need our elected officials to work to bring us together to address our shared challenges and make this a better city for all.

  11. brian / ward 5

    January 14, 2012 at 6:46 am

    *If [Delano Hunter] is serious about changing his mind, let him come clean, admit to having been wrong, and go on record as supporting marriage equality and opposing the conducting of any plebiscite in which people’s rights are put to a popular vote. We have only thirteen seats in our city’s legislature. We cannot afford to fill one of them with someone who seeks to advance himself by collaborating with bigots from outside our city who seek to divide us.* – Rick Rosendall, GLAA

    “The stuff in the media and blogs was not an accurate portrayal…I have been screaming this as loud as I can, ‘hey my position has not been fairly represented’,” Hunter said. “I went to the Blade because I wanted to speak to the LGBT community.” – Tim Craig, WaPo (1/13/12)

    Exactly right, Rick. The homophobic mailers by NOM mailed throughout the ward puts Hunter in an entirely different category than Vincent Orange’s comment and position in the waning days of the mayoral primary in 2006.

    Incredibly, Hunter is still denying his anti-gay marriage position and the NOM-sponsored bigoted mailers on his behalf — just 15 months ago.

    I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Hunter to take Rick’s advice. I doubt any LGBT activists in Ward 5 or elsewhere have heard a kind word or any LGBT-issues concern at all from Delano Hunter in the past 15 months. Hunter is not trying to convince Ward 5’s LGBT voters, as he knows we know the truth.

    The reason one of Hunter’s promoters, die-hard Marriage Equality opponent, Kathryn Pearson-West, is suddenly cutting off LGBT members and debate re. Hunter on the Ward5 listserv is because of the firestorm of disbelief expressed there — by straight LGBT sympathizers, as well. This is really just a quick PR effort on Delano Hunter’s part to convince concerned straight Ward 5 voters that he’s “OK with the gays.”

    This Ward 5 special election to replace Thomas is one for LGBTs throughout the city to watch. I hope GLAA will survey all the declared candidates in Ward 5, too.

    A number of us are already leaning to McDuffie. McDuffie’s heartfelt, early support for Marriage Equality, his experience in Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office, plus as a civil rights prosecutor in the Justice Department all give him important assets in a ward that is yearning for ethical integrity.

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Heather Mizeur congressional campaign raises more than $1M

Former Md. delegate challenging Andy Harris

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Heather Mizeur, Delman Coates, Montgomery County, Silver Spring, Maryland, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade, momentum
Former Maryland state Del. Heather Mizeur is running for Congress (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Heather Mizeur has raised more than $1 million in her campaign against anti-LGBTQ Republican Congressman Andy Harris in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District.

“No candidate in #MD01 of either party, incumbent or challenger, has ever hit the $1M milestone this early in the election cycle,” Mizeur tweeted on Oct. 6.

The Victory Fund in an Oct. 8 press release said 80 percent of this $1 million came from Maryland-based donors, “a sign the district is ready for new representation.” And Mizeur continues to outpace Harris, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission that say she raised $717,445 for the cycle ending June 30, while Harris raised $425,288.

“Andy Harris has taken every opportunity to attack and vilify trans individuals, trying to score political points with his base at the expense of the safety of some of his constituents,” Mizeur told the Washington Blade.

In 2014 Harris made the Human Rights Campaign’s “Hall of Shame” for proactively working “to undermine existing legal protections and promote anti-LGBT discrimination.”

“In contrast, the LGBTQ community knows me for my record,” Mizeur said. “And knows I’ll always lead with compassion and stand up for civil and human rights. I think the 1st District will respond to my message of respect and understanding.”

Mizeur, who now lives on the Eastern Shore with her wife, served on the Takoma Park City Council. Mizeur was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates for eight years.

In 2014, she launched a long-shot, grassroots campaign for governor where she finished a strong third in the Democratic primary, despite being outraised by better-known opponents.

But Mizeur also said she is aware of the challenges her team faces in taking on a well-entrenched Republican in a solidly conservative district.

The Cook Partisan Voter Index in 2017 rated the district as R +14, meaning the previous two presidential election results in the district skewed 14 percentage points more Republican than the national average.

“We have over $760,000 in the bank, and we’ve outraised him during our time in the race,” Mizeur said. “We’re raising the money we need to go toe-to-toe with Andy Harris next year.”

The Baltimore Sun in February reported Harris was “flush with campaign cash” mostly due to a 2010 redistricting that “packed” the area with Republican voters to increase Democrats’ chances in other district races.

“Yes, Andy Harris has over $1 million in the bank, stockpiled over a decade in office,” Mizeur said. “But in the short time I’ve been in the race, we’ve cut significantly into his cash on hand advantage.”

Harris has represented the 1st Congressional District—which includes Maryland’s Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford Counties—since 2011 and easily fended off most challenges with at least 60 percent of the vote. These challengers include Mia Mason, a transgender military veteran, who ran against him in 2020.

The 2010 redistricting made Harris’ seat safe enough not only to donate nearly a third of his war chest to conservative groups and candidates, such as U.S. Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), but to openly court controversy himself.

Harris last year openly defended then-President Trump’s discredited efforts to overturn the 2020 election. And in December he signed onto an amicus brief supporting a failed lawsuit contesting the presidential election results.

This year he downplayed the violence of the Jan. 6 insurrection in which numerous police officers were attacked, members of Congress were threatened, and the U.S. Capitol was vandalized.

Mizeur told the Blade that while Harris’ actions regarding the Jan. 6 insurrection were the catalyst for her challenging his seat, she feels the district is changing and he no longer represents their interests.

“Our supporters know he’s been embarrassing Maryland in Congress for far too long, and that some of his actions have shown he’s completely unfit to serve in public office, regardless of ideological views,” Mizeur said. “They want someone who will bring compassionate leadership and innovative thinking back to the first district. And that’s appealing to people across party lines.”

Maryland’s primary election is June 28, 2022, and its general election follows on Nov. 8.

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AU student expelled over arrest in attack on gay Asian man, parents

Patrick Trebat no longer affiliated with university

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

An American University graduate student who was arrested by D.C. police on Aug. 7 on charges that he assaulted a gay Asian man and the man’s parents while shouting homophobic and anti-Asian slurs “is no longer affiliated with the university and will not be allowed on campus,” according to a report by WTOP News.

In an Oct. 9 broadcast that it updated this week, WTOP said Patrick Trebat, 38, who had been taking a night class at the university’s Kogod School of Business, was banned from returning to the campus.

Charging documents filed in D.C. Superior Court show that Trebat was charged by D.C. police with one count of felony assault, two counts of simple assault and one count of destruction of property for allegedly assaulting and injuring Sean Lai, 30, an out gay man of Chinese ancestry, and his parents on the 3700 block of Fulton Street, N.W., on Aug. 7.

The charging documents say Trebat allegedly began to follow Lai and his parents as they were walking along the street in the city’s Observatory Circle neighborhood near the National Cathedral. According to a statement by a police official from the police district whose officers made the arrest, Trebat punched and kicked the three victims as he stated, “Get out of my country.” The police statement says the family was taken to a hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

A separate police report says Trebat shouted the word “faggots” at the family and shouted, “You are not Americans!”

Based on these allegations, prosecutors classified the assault charges as an anti-Asian bias related crime, but they did not add an anti-gay classification to the charges.

Court records show that Trebat was released two days after his arrest while awaiting trial under the court’s High Intensity Supervision Program, which, among other things, imposed a curfew requiring him to return home by 10 p.m.

An Oct. 8 story in The Eagle, the American University student newspaper, says it learned that Trebat’s attorney filed a motion in court, which the Washington Blade also discovered from court records, asking a judge to extend the curfew deadline from 10 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. so that Trebat could attend at night class at American University.

The motion, which prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not oppose and the judge approved, identified Trebat in the public court records as an AU graduate student.

According to the Eagle, representatives of the university’s Asian American and LGBTQ student groups criticized university officials for not alerting students that an AU student charged with an anti-Asian hate crime while hurling homophobic slurs had access to the campus and could pose a danger to students.

“Patrick Trebant is not affiliated with American University and is not allowed on campus,” AU told the Blade on Wednesday in a statement. “While we cannot discuss details of an individual matter, when a student has been arrested, charged, convicted of, or sentenced for a felony crime, the university’s student conduct code provides for an administrative adjudication process. The safety of our students and our community is our priority.”

The Eagle reports that the code of conduct states that the dean of students or their designee can administratively adjudicate a case when a student has been accused of a non-academic offense “where the student has been arrested, charged, convicted of, or sentenced for a felony crime” for certain misconduct. The code of conduct applies in a situation in which a student is arrested for an off-campus allegation.

Court records show Trebat is scheduled to return to court at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 15 for a felony status hearing before Superior Court Judge Judith Pipe.

Neither Trebat nor his attorney, Brandi Harden, could immediately be reached for comment.

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Two remaining defendants in D.C. trans murder case accept plea bargain

Dee Dee Dodds murdered in Northeast Washington in 2016

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Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds was killed in 2016. (Photo via Facebook)

Two of the four D.C. men who were charged with first-degree murder while armed for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds on a Northeast Washington street pleaded guilty on Sept. 30 to a charge of voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.

A four-page letter providing details of the plea bargain offer made by prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court, states that the agreement accepted by defendants Jolonta Little, 30, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, includes the decision to drop the murder charge in exchange for a guilty plea to a single count of voluntary manslaughter.

It says that in exchange for the guilty plea prosecutors will also drop additional charges originally brought against Little and Johnson, including robbery while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and unlawful possession of a firearm.

The agreement also includes a promise by prosecutors to ask Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee, who is presiding over the case, to issue a sentence of eight years in prison for both men.

The letter spelling out the details of the plea deal makes it clear that it will be up to Lee to decide whether to accept the eight-year jail term proposed by prosecutors, and there is no guarantee that Lee will not hand down a sentence with a longer prison term.

It states that under the D.C. criminal code, a conviction on a voluntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Attorneys and observers of the D.C. courts have said judges usually agree to a recommended sentence by prosecutors in cases involving a plea bargain agreement.   

The letter describing the terms of the plea agreement in the Johnson and Little cases does not say whether prosecutors will ask Lee to deduct from the proposed eight-year jail sentence the time that the two men have already spent in jail since the time of their arrest. But in most criminal cases, judges agree to provide full credit for time served in jail prior to a conviction and sentencing.

Johnson has been held without bond for just over five years since his September 2016 arrest. Little has been held without bond for four years and eight months since his arrest in February 2017.

The plea bargain deal came two and a half years after a D.C. Superior Court jury became deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charges brought against Johnson and Little following a month-long trial, prompting Lee to declare a mistrial on March 6, 2019.

The two other men charged in Dodd’s murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial in which they pled guilty to second-degree murder. Both testified at the trial as government witnesses.

In dramatic testimony, Cyheme Hall told the jury that it was Johnson who fatally shot Dodds in the neck at point black range after she grabbed the barrel of his handgun as Johnson and Hall attempted to rob her on Division Avenue, N.E., near where she lived. Hall testified that the plan among the four men to rob Dodds did not include the intent to kill her.

In his testimony, Hall said that in the early morning hours of July 4, 2016, he and the other three men made plans to commit armed robberies for cash in areas of D.C. where trans women, most of whom were sex workers, congregated. He testified that the four men got into a car driven by Little and searched the streets for victims that they didn’t expect to offer resistance.

D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s Office initially designated the murder charges against Johnson and Little as a hate crime based on findings by homicide detectives that the men were targeting trans women for armed robberies. However, during Johnson and Little’s trial, Lee dismissed the hate crime designation on grounds that there was insufficient evidence by prosecutors to support a hate crime designation.

At the request of prosecutors, Lee scheduled a second trial for Johnson and Little following the deadlocked jury in the first trial. But court records show that for reasons not disclosed in the public court docket, the start of the second trial was postponed several times. The most recent postponement was due to restrictions placed on the court related to the COVID pandemic.

As of August, of this year, the court records show, the second murder trial for Johnson and Little was scheduled to begin on Feb. 17, 2022. But the records show that as of Sept. 30 of this year the defense attorneys and prosecutors reached an agreement over the plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors. It was on that day, the court records show, that the two men officially agreed to plead guilty to the lower charge of voluntary manslaughter and waived their right to a trial. The following day, on Oct. 1, Lee accepted the guilty pleas and scheduled the sentencing for Dec. 10.

Meanwhile, Cyheme Hall and Shareem Hall have remained in the D.C. jail since the time of their respective arrests. Court records show they were scheduled to be sentenced by Lee on Dec. 20, 10 days after the sentencing for Johnson and Little.

It couldn’t immediately be determined from the court records whether prosecutors allowed the Hall brothers to also plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and have dropped the second- degree murder charge to which the two men pled guilty back in 2019 as part of an earlier plea bargain deal.

At the time Johnson and Little’s trial ended with the deadlocked jury in March 2019, LGBTQ activists expressed alarm that the jury’s action appeared to be a repeat occurrence of several previous D.C. cases in which male attackers charged with assaulting and murdering trans women of color were not convicted for those crimes.

“This is a very dangerous move on the part of the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” said Ruby Corado, founder and former executive director of Casa Ruby, the D.C. LGBTQ community services center, in referring to the plea deal.

“We need to be strengthening laws to ensure that the horrible epidemic of violence against LGBTQ people that we currently face ends, and not giving criminals a slap on the hand for committing murders against us,” Corado told the Washington Blade. “This sends a message that our lives don’t matter that much to those who already see us as easy targets; we are now becoming disposable people in the eyes of the law.”

D.C. trans rights advocate Alexis Blackmon, Casa Ruby’s interim executive director, called the plea bargain deal offered to Little and Johnson “very disturbing.” Added Blackmon, “How it’s being read across to me is if we can’t convict you on murder then we’re going to basically slap your wrist.”

Blackmon said she will consult with other local LGBTQ activists to determine whether a representative of the LGBTQ community should request to testify at Little and Johnson’s Dec. 10 sentencing hearing to ask the judge to hand down a sentence greater than eight years.

D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and trans advocate Monika Nemeth said she too is troubled over the plea bargain agreement.

“While I am stunned by a plea that reduces the charge from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter, I should not be as we are still a society for whom trans people, particularly trans women of color, are not valued and are disposable,” Nemeth said. “I don’t see how you get to voluntary manslaughter when the victims were targeted for being trans. This is not justice.”

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said he would make inquires with the office’s prosecutors to obtain a response to a question from the Blade asking for an explanation of why the decision was made to issue the plea bargain offer rather than bring defendants Little and Johnson to trial on the murder charge.

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