More than 200 people turned out for a candlelight vigil Tuesday night at the site of a Northeast Washington bus stop where transgender woman Deoni Jones, 23, was fatally stabbed on Feb. 2 while waiting for a bus.
Surrounded by family members and friends, Jones’ stepfather, Alvin Bethea, made an emotional appeal for witnesses to come forward to identify a male suspect that police believe stabbed Jones in the face about 8:15 p.m. at the bus stop at East Capitol Street and Sycamore Road, N.E.
“We suspect that the person who did this lives in this community or hangs out in this community,” Bethea said. “Help the Metropolitan Police Department out… If anybody knows anything, please contact them.”
Bethea and other family members and friends who spoke at the vigil through a bullhorn provided by a member of the police department’s Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit described Jones as warm and considerate, saying she lifted their spirits and made them laugh.
Police said this week that a video they released last Friday showing the suspect crossing a street from a distance prompted several people to contact investigators with information that is helping the department’s Homicide Branch in its investigation of the murder.
The video, which has been posted on YouTube, doesn’t clearly show the suspect’s face. But police said they were hopeful that someone who knows the person in question would recognize him in the video and reveal his identity to police homicide investigators.
In an interview with the Blade on the day police released the video, Lt. Robert Adler of the Homicide Branch described the suspect as a black male, 30 to 40 years old, about five-feet-nine to six-feet tall, with a medium build and medium complexion and sporting a beard.
“At the time of the incident the person was wearing a black jacket with a grey hooded sweatshirt underneath it and a pair of what we believe is jeans,” Adler said.
He said investigators obtained the description of the suspect “from a variety of different sources.”
Asked whether evidence exists to indicate the killing was a hate crime, Adler said, “At this time we are still investigating if it is or is not a hate crime. And as the investigation proceeds we should probably get a better idea of whether that was a factor in the assault.”
Police issued a statement on Feb. 3 saying a citizen flagged down a Metro transit police officer about 8:15 p.m. on Feb. 2 to report an assault at a bus stop on the 4900 block of East Capitol Street, N.E.
“Upon arrival, the officer located a transgender female who was unconscious and unresponsive suffering from a stab wound,” the statement said. “Units from the Sixth District and D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel responded to the scene. The victim was transported to a local hospital and admitted in critical condition,” the statement said.
“On Friday, Feb. 3, 2012, at 2:35 a.m., the victim was pronounced dead,” the statement said.
Adler said Jones had no identification in her possession when police found her unconscious at the bus stop. He said investigators later identified her through finger prints.
The D.C. Trans Coalition released a statement on Feb. 3 saying it had learned through its own sources that a third person was at the bus stop when the stabbing took place and chased after the attacker. The statement said the attacker escaped when the witness realized that Jones was in need of immediate medical attention and abandoned his pursuit of the attacker.
Among those speaking at the vigil on Tuesday were Jeffrey Richardson, director of Mayor Vincent Gray’s Office of GLBT Affairs; Earline Budd and Brian Watson, officials with the D.C. transgender advocacy and services organization Transgender Health Empowerment; Cyndee Clay, executive director of the local group HIPS, which provides social services to transgender people; Officer Justin Markiewicz of the GLLU; and Ron Moten, co-founder of the D.C. youth anti-violence group Peaceoholics.
Jones’ mother, Jaquander Jones, and sister Judean Jones told the gathering they were devastated over the murder and were struggling over why someone would take the life of their loved one.
Moten urged possible witnesses to Jones’ murder to disregard what he called a reluctance by many city youth to turn in violent criminals out of fear of being labeled a “snitcher.”
“Somebody saw what happened,” he said. “And let me tell you something. There’s a difference between snitching and citizenship. Snitching is when you commit a crime with somebody and then you tell on them so you can get off,” he said.
“Citizenship is when you protect and serve your community and you fight for people like Deoni who lived a good life, who helped people, who made people smile every day,” he told the gathering.
One male friend of Jones,’ who didn’t identify himself at the vigil, described her as one of his closest friends and said her death has been devastating for him.
“This is a person who I hung out with like every day,” he said. “I watched this girl graduate. I helped her with her homework. I watched her grow from JaParker to Deoni, and that was a big step for her,” he said.
“If you’re going to do that you have to be a brave person,” the friend said. “She said she was ready. And that’s what she did, she just transformed. She was so beautiful.”
Some at the vigil, such as Bethea, referred to Deoni by her birth name of JaParker or by her nickname Logan. All who spoke said they loved and respected her for who she was.
In his emotional appeal for witnesses to come forward, Bethea described how he interacted with Jones at their home minutes before her death.
“I was sitting in the house just surfing the Internet on the laptop when JaParker asked to check the bus schedule to see what time the bus was going to arrive at this stop here,” he said. “I turned the laptop so he could check it. He checked it and walked out the door to hang out with one of the friends that he grew up with,” Bethea said.
“Ever since JaParker came into my life about 18 years ago he brought nothing but joy,” he said. “That’s all he ever did.”
In speculating on why the suspect attacked Jones, Bethea said he was certain that Jones would not have started a confrontation.
“I don’t know exactly whether they exchanged words or what but JaParker didn’t have a violent bone in his body,” he said. “And he was just confronted by the devil. He was simply sitting at this bus stop. That’s all.”
Police are offering a reward of up to $25,000 to anyone providing information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons wanted for any homicide committee in D.C., police said in a statement.
Anyone with information is asked to call police at 202-272-9099. Anonymous information can be submitted to the department’s “TEXT TIP LINE” by text messaging 50411, the police statement says.
Dignity Washington opens new center in Dupont Circle
Proceeds from sale of old building used to expand programming
The local LGBTQ Catholic organization Dignity Washington recently opened its new Dignity Center office and community meeting space at a Dupont Circle condominium building that includes first-floor offices for small businesses and community organizations.
Dignity Washington President Tom Yates said the new space at the Imperial House condominium building at 1601 18th Street, N.W., is currently being used as Dignity’s office headquarters and for meetings of the group’s board and committees. He said as COVID-related restrictions are relaxed the space will be used for various events and possible use by other LGBTQ community organizations.
Yates said the group purchased the 1,700-square-foot office space in March of this year, eight months after selling its former Dignity Center building at 721 8th St., S.E., in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill. Dignity officials have said the Capitol Hill building was larger than the space the group needed and the proceeds from its sale would provide funds to expand its programs.
“Dignity Washington, making use of the fiscal support made possible by the change of properties, hopes to become more active speaking truth to power of the Catholic Church,” Yates told the Blade. “The new facility is only a handful of blocks from the Cathedral of St. Matthew,” he said, referring to one of the city’s largest Catholic churches.
Noting the Catholic Church’s historic lack of support for the LGBTQ community, Yates said the proximity of the new Dignity Center would help the group’s mission of showing “the local same-sex community that one can be both Catholic and same-sex loving.”
Yates said Dignity Washington, founded in 1972, is the largest chapter of the national LGBTQ Catholic organization Dignity USA.
Dignity Washington, among other things, organizes a weekly 6 p.m. Sunday Mass for LGBTQ Catholics and their friends and families at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church at 1830 Connecticut Ave., N.W.
In plea deal, D.C. trans woman’s killers could be free in 3 years
Two in 2016 killing of Dee Dee Dodds guilty of voluntary manslaughter
A D.C. LGBTQ anti-violence group will be submitting a community impact statement for a D.C. Superior Court judge scheduled to sentence two men on Dec. 10 for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds in a case D.C. police listed as a hate crime.
Stephania Mahdi, chair of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s Anti-Violence Project, told the Washington Blade the project has been in contact with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C., which is prosecuting the case against the two defendants set to be sentenced this week, to arrange for the submission of a statement on the impact the murder of Dodds has had on the community.
The impact statement would also apply to the sentencing of two other men charged in the Dodds murder case who are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 20.
The Dec. 10 sentencing for Jolonta Little, 30, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, was set to take place a little over two months after Little and Johnson pleaded guilty on Sept. 30 to a single count of voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.
In exchange for the guilty plea for voluntary manslaughter, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to drop the charge of first-degree murder while armed originally brought against the two men. The plea agreement also called for dropping additional charges against them in connection with the Dodds murder, including robbery while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and unlawful possession of a firearm.
In addition, the plea agreement includes a promise by prosecutors to ask D.C. Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee, who is presiding over the case, to issue a sentence of eight years in prison for both men. Under the D.C. criminal code, a conviction on a voluntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Johnson has been held without bond for five years and three months since his arrest in the Dodds case in September 2016. Little has been held without bond since his arrest for the Dodds murder in February 2017. Courthouse observers say that judges almost always give defendants credit for time served prior to their sentencing, a development that would likely result in the two men being released in about three years.
The plea deal for the two men 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 against Johnson and Little following a month-long trial, prompting Judge Lee to declare a mistrial on March 6, 2019.
The two other men charged in Dodds’ murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain offer by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial in which they pled guilty to second-degree murder. Both testified at Johnson and Little’s 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 blank range after he said she grabbed the barrel of Johnson’s handgun as Johnson and Hall attempted to rob her on Division Ave., 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 on the day of Dodd’s murder, he and the other three men made plans to commit armed robberies for cash in areas of D.C. where trans women, some 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 they didn’t expect to offer resistance.
D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office initially designated the murder charge against Little and Johnson as an anti-trans hate crime offense based on findings by homicide detectives that the men were targeting trans women for armed robberies. But during Johnson and Little’s trial, Judge Lee dismissed the hate crime designation at the request of defense attorneys on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support a hate crime designation.
At the request of prosecutors, Judge Lee scheduled a second trial for Johnson and Little on the murder charge for Feb. 25, 2020. But court records show the trial date was postponed to June 22, 2020, and postponed several more times – to Jan 11, 2021, and later to Feb. 17, 2022, due to COVID-related restrictions before the plea bargain offer was agreed to in September of this year. The public court records do not show why the trial was postponed the first few times prior to the start of COVID restrictions on court proceedings.
Legal observers have said long delays in trials, especially murder trials, often make it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain a conviction because memories of key witnesses sometimes become faulty several years after a crime was committed.
“The D.C. Anti-Violence Project is disappointed to hear about the unfortunate proceedings in the case to bring justice for Dee Dee Dodds,” Mahdi, the Anti-Violence Project’s chair, told the Blade in a statement.
“A plea bargain from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter as well as a reduction of years in sentencing from 30 to 8 communicates not only a miscarriage of justice, but a message of penalization for victims who attempt to protect themselves during a violent assault,” Mahdi said. “The continual impact of reducing the culpability of perpetrators who target members of specifically identified communities sends a malicious message to criminals that certain groups of people are easier targets with lenient consequences,” she said.
“As a result of this pattern, the D.C. community has failed to defend the life and civil rights of Dee Dee Dodds and leaves criminally targeted LGBTQ+ community and other cultural identity communities critically undervalued by stewards of justice in the nation’s capital,” Mahdi concluded.
William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has declined to disclose the reason why prosecutors decided to offer Johnson and Little the plea bargain deal rather than petition the court for a second trial for the two men on the first-degree murder charge.
Attorneys familiar with cases like this, where a jury becomes deadlocked, have said prosecutors sometimes decide to offer a plea deal rather than go to trial again out of concern that another jury could find a defendant not guilty on all charges.
During the trial, defense attorneys told the jury that the Hall brothers were habitual liars and there were inconsistencies in their testimony. They argued that the Halls’ motives were aimed strictly at saying what prosecutors wanted them to say so they could get off with a lighter sentence.
The two prosecutors participating in the trial disputed those claims, arguing that government witnesses provided strong evidence that Johnson and Little should be found guilty of first-degree murder and other related charges.
Before the jury announced it was irreconcilably deadlocked on the murder charges, the jury announced it found Little not guilty of seven separate counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and found Johnson not guilty of five counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.
Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate
More than 100 people attended ‘We ARE the People’ rally
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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