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D.C. Man charged in murder of gay principal killed

Police say Joel Johnson — charged in 2010 murder of middle school principal — shot in Southeast D.C. while committing armed burglary



Brian Betts, Joel Johnson, Shaw Middle School, gay news, Washington Blade

Joel Johnson was one of four charged in the 2010 shooting death of popular Shaw Middle School principal Brian Betts. (Blade file photo)

One of four young men charged in the April 2010 murder of gay D.C. middle school principal Brian Betts was shot to death on Sept. 19 by a man he attempted to rob at gunpoint in the victim’s Southeast Washington apartment, according to D.C. police.

Joel Johnson, 21, died in the apartment from a single gunshot wound to the head 15 months after he was released from prison upon his completion of an 18-month sentence in connection with Betts’ murder.

Montgomery County prosecutors allowed Johnson to plead guilty in 2011 to accessory after the fact, rather than murder, because he wasn’t the one who shot Betts and he cooperated with police and prosecutors.

D.C. police said Johnson and Jaren Holley, 21, each in possession of a handgun, approached a male victim as he was about to enter his apartment on the 4200 block of 1st Street, S.E., about 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 19.

In a statement, police said Johnson and Holley forced their way into the victim’s third floor apartment where the victim and a woman, who was also present in the apartment, lived. The police statement says investigators believe Johnson and Holley were planning to rob the victim.

Once inside, a struggle broke out between Johnson and the man he and Holley attempted to rob, the police statement says.

“During the course of the struggle, the decedent was fatally shot. The other suspect fled the scene,” the statement says.

Members of the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene and determined that Johnson showed no signs of life, according to the statement. It says Johnson was pronounced dead a short time later by a member of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Police said they apprehended Holley on Sept. 24 and charged him with first-degree burglary while armed.

D.C. police homicide detectives, who were assigned to investigate the case, had not filed any charges against the man who shot Johnson in the apartment. One police source said the investigation would likely determine that the man acted in self-defense.

On the day of the incident, D.C. police identified the dead man as Joel Johnson but didn’t immediately disclose that he was the same Joel Johnson implicated in the Betts murder case. That confirmation came from a spokesperson for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s office.

The spokesperson, Ramon Korionoff, told the Blade on Friday that Johnson’s cooperation with police and prosecutors helped authorities obtain a guilty plea of felony first-degree murder from Alante Saunders, the then 19-year-old youth that prosecutors say shot Betts to death inside the bedroom of the popular principal’s Silver Spring, Md., house on April 15, 2010. A judge later sentenced Saunders to 40 years in prison in connection with the Betts murder.

In the weeks following Betts’ murder, Montgomery County police and prosecutors disclosed that Saunders met Betts through a sex chat line that catered to gay men. Police said Saunders contacted Betts through the chat line and expressed an interest in getting together with Betts.

Betts, 42, apparently invited Saunders to his house, police said. As part of a plan to rob Betts, Saunders, Johnson and two others – Deontra Gray and Shariff Lancaster, both 19 — drove to Betts’ house. Prosecutors said Johnson was in the house when Saunders fatally shot Betts in what police described as a “robbery that went bad.”

Police apprehended all four men by tracing their whereabouts when they began making purchases with a credit card they stole from Betts’s houses.

Korionoff said Johnson was sentenced to five years in prison but a judge suspended all but 18 months of the sentence at the recommendation of prosecutors, who persuaded Johnson to plead guilty to the lesser charge as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

Betts had served as principal of D.C.’s Shaw Middle School at the time of his death. D.C. public school officials, who expressed shock and sadness upon learning of his death, described him as a highly acclaimed educator and innovative principal credited with boosting the academic achievement of his school’s students.

On the day Saunders was sentenced to the 40-year prison term an attorney representing Betts’ parents announced that the parents were calling on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether Betts’ murder should be classified as an anti-gay hate crime.

In a news conference at the courthouse where Saunders was sentenced, attorney Gloria Allred, who is well known for taking on high-profile celebrity cases, said Betts’ family retained her to explore whether Betts’ murder should be prosecuted under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

“Brian was a gay man and we believe an investigation should be opened under that law to determine whether a hate crime has or has not been committed by defendant Saunders and if it has whether it is appropriate to proceed with a federal prosecution under that law,” Allred said.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy told reporters at the courthouse that day that his office investigated the possibility that Betts’ murder was a hate crime and could not find evidence to substantiate a hate related motive in the case.

“If we had seen evidence of a hate crime, we would have charged it,” he said.

The Justice Department declined to become involved in the case.

Last week, the Betts family released a statement on Johnson’s death.

“We are deeply saddened that after Joel Johnson was given a second chance to become a productive member of society that he chose to continue to follow a path of crime and self-destruction which ultimately resulted in his death,” the statement says. “The loss of our family member, Brian K. Betts, a beloved educator and inspirational member of the community, has left a void for those who had the privilege to know him that will remain forever. Our sympathy is with the Johnson family at this time.”



Virginia Beach high school students stage walkouts to support transgender rights

City’s school board approved policy to out trans students to parents



Transgender flags (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key.)

Students at five Virginia Beach high schools on Friday staged walkouts in support of transgender rights.

The walkout is in response to the Virginia Beach School Board approving policy 5-31, which the Pride Liberation Project says will require schools to out trans students to their parents.

Students have been organizing walkouts across the state since Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin earlier this year announced new guidelines for trans and nonbinary students.

“Students like me aren’t going to be able to talk to our teachers if we’re constantly worried about our school officials calling home to forcibly out us,” AJ, a trans Kellam High School Student, told the Pride Liberation Project.

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District of Columbia

Pepco, Exelon announce $2.7 million in funding for four minority-owned businesses

‘It’s good business sense to bring more people to the table’



Pepco and Exelon held a press conference Friday to announce four recipients of $2.7 million in investments. (Photo courtesy Exelon)

Pepco and Exelon announced a $2.7 million investment in four minority-owned businesses on Friday.

“Today’s been a long time coming,” said Pepco Vice President of Governmental and External Affairs Valencia McClure.

Pepco’s parent company, Exelon, launched the Racial Equity Capital Fund (RECF) in 2022 to expand capital access to diverse businesses. This latest $2.7 million investment is just a portion of RECF’s $36 million in funding.

At the announcement, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser spoke about the other ways Pepco and Exelon have “put their money where their mouth is” through their partnership with the D.C. Infrastructure Academy. She reported that all 22 of the residents that graduated from the program last week have a job offer from Pepco.

“We know that is not just a job, but a career,” she said to the crowd’s applause. “We know that working together, we can invest in D.C. residents, provide opportunity, and ensure that our D.C. businesses are a part of D.C.’s growing prosperity.”

The four minority businesses that received funding were Gemini Energy Solutions, Public Sector Solutions Group, CJR Development Partners, and Escalate.

“It’s good business sense to bring more people to the table,” said fund recipient Nicole Cober, CJR Development’s Principle Managing Partner.

Gemini Energy Solutions, which is Black owned, received $1 million, the most of the four companies. Its mission is to equitably scale energy efficiency to marginalized communities. For the founder and CEO Anthony Kinslow II, this investment means that he is able to get paid and advance the work of his organization.

“We are now able to accelerate the work in our software and technology development,” he said. “What we were going to do in two years, we are now going to do in six months.”

For Escalate, a workforce development platform focused on frontline worker retention, the funding means that it will be able to double the pay for frontline workers.

Public Sector Solutions Group CEO Darryl Wiggins emphasized that this investment was not just ‘charity’ work, but mission-driven work.

“The principle and the intent is greater than the money we receive,” he said. Public Sector Solutions is Black owned.

Public Sector Solutions Group received a $600,000 debt investment; CJR Development, a minority and woman-owned small business, received a $600,000 debt investment; and Escalate, a majority Black and woman-owned company, received a $500,000 equity investment.

Exelon launched the RECF in partnership with RockCreek, one of the world’s largest diverse-owned global investment firms, in 2022. The RECF expands capital access to diverse businesses so they can create more jobs, grow their companies and reinvest in their neighborhoods and communities, according to a statement from Exelon.

New RECF applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Interested businesses may apply online or contact RockCreek at [email protected] for more information.

(Photo courtesy Exelon)
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Comings & Goings

Armstrong recognized with Lifetime Achievement Award



Lynden C. Armstrong

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 Lynden C. Armstrong on his Lifetime Achievement award from the Congressional Management Foundation in recognition of his exemplary public service in Congress. 

Upon receiving the award Armstrong said, “This recognition is not just a personal achievement, but a testament to the unwavering dedication and hard work of colleagues and mentors who have been with me on this journey. I’ve dedicated my entire career to public service within the Senate, where recognition isn’t the primary motivation for our work, making this recognition even more humbling.” He is currently Deputy Assistant Senate Sergeant at Arms and Chief Information Officer.  

Armstrong started his career with Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), where he rose to Deputy Chief of Staff in his more than 13-year stint. In 2004, during his tenure with Domenici, amid a debate on the Federal Marriage Amendment, Armstrong became a co-founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Allies Senate Staff (GLASS) Caucus. In 2014, he moved to the Sergeant at Arms CIO organization, where he established a new department within the CIO that was crafted to engage Senate offices in comprehending and harnessing technologies provided by the SAA. 

Lynden has previously served as Chief Clerk on the U.S. Senate, Committee on Rules and Administration, and with the U.S. Senate, Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, as Deputy Inaugural Coordinator, 2012–2013.  In that role among other responsibilities, he served as civilian liaison to the National Special Security Event Executive Steering Committee and subcommittees, including the Capitol, USCP, Crowd Management, Public Relations, Transportation, and credentialing, and as liaison to the Joint Task Force – National Capital Region. 

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