October 19, 2012 at 10:07 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Trial begins for D.C. cop charged with shooting trans women in car

Metro DC Police, gay news, Washington Blade

A police spokesperson said officer Kenneth Furr has been suspended indefinitely without pay since shortly after his arrest. (Washington Blade photo by Phil Reese)

One trial ended and another began this week in separate cases in which police and prosecutors said lesbians and transgender women were victims of violent attacks in the summer of 2011.

A D.C. Superior Court jury on Wednesday found Christian Washington guilty of simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in connection with a July 2011 assault against lesbian Yazzmen Morse and four of her friends outside the Columbia Heights Metro station.

The jury also found Dalonte Washington, Christian Washington’s brother, not guilty of a charge of simple assault against at least two of Morse’s lesbian friends in the same incident – Kiara Johnson and Dominique KcKee. The charges against the two brothers were classified as hate crimes.

In a separate case, a D.C. Superior Court trial began on Wednesday for D.C. police officer Kenneth Furr, who was arrested while off-duty in August 2011 for allegedly firing his service revolver into the front windshield of a car in which three transgender women and two male friends were sitting. Two of the women and one of the men suffered non-life threatening gunshot wounds in the incident.

The incident drew expressions of shock and outrage from LGBT activists, who organized a protest vigil at the scene of the shooting the day after the incident occurred.

Earlier this year, a Superior Court grand jury handed down a 9-count indictment against Furr that included six counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, one count of assault with intent to kill while armed, and two counts of solicitation for prostitution.

One of the transgender women told police that the incident began when Furr offered to pay her for sex while the two crossed paths inside a CVS drugstore at 5th and Massachusetts Ave., N.W. The woman said Furr became angry when she refused his offer, and a verbal altercation began between Furr and a male friend who was with her.

A police arrest affidavit says Furr threatened the friend with a gun outside the CVS store. It says the friend, another male friend, the transgender woman who had been approached by Furr, and two of her transgender female friends later followed Furr in their car after watching him drive away. They said their intent was to follow him while attempting to call police to have him arrested, the affidavit says.

The affidavit says Furr stopped his car and pointed his gun at the other car, prompting the male driver to duck for cover, which resulted in his car colliding with Furr’s car. At that time, Furr climbed on the hood of the car that hit his car and fired his gun several times through the front windshield, striking three of the five terrified occupants, the affidavit says.

In opening arguments at his trial on Wednesday, Furr’s lawyer argued that Furr believed his life was in danger after noticing the car with the people he had been arguing with was following him through the streets of D.C., according to D.C. Trans Coalition member and attorney Jeff Light, who attended the trial.

Light said defense attorney David Knight argued that Furr acted in self-defense when he fired his gun.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Worm, one of the prosecutors in the case, disputed Furr’s self-defense claim at an earlier court hearing, saying Furr fired at the five people out of anger and was never in danger.

Superior Court Judge Russell Canan adjourned the trial Thursday afternoon and said it would resume Monday morning, Oct. 22. Canan said he expected the trial to last two weeks, according to Light.

Prosecutors have not listed charges against Furr as hate crimes.

In the case involving the lesbian assault victims, the women told police at the time of the incident that the attack began after they politely spurned the men’s attempt to “flirt” with them as they walked along the 3100 block of 14th St., N.W. about 3 a.m. on July 30, 2011.

One of the men became enraged and began calling the women “dyke bitches,” the women told police, after two of them identified themselves as girl friends.

The case created a stir in the LGBT community after the women initially reported that as many as seven D.C. police officers who arrived on the scene refused to arrest the men or take a report from the women.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier announced a short time later that the department was investigating the officers’ conduct and that they could be subject to disciplinary action, including dismissal.

Court records show that Superior Court Judge Florence Pan ordered Christian Washington held while he awaits sentencing scheduled for Nov. 8.

The charges against both Washington brothers were listed as hate crimes.

Light said he filed a motion prior to the start of the Furr trial on behalf of the D.C. Trans Coalition asking for the judge to release questionnaires given to several dozen potential jurors during the jury selection phase of the trial.

He said his aim was to learn whether the judge, along with prosecutors and defense attorneys, were diligently screening potential jurors for bias against transgender people in a case involving three transgender victims. Light said he was pleased that Judge Canan approved his motion and arranged for the completed juror questionnaires to be given to him following of the jury selection.

“One question was, are you biased toward the transgender community,” Light told the Blade. “Several said yes.”

“The judge said he could not imagine how anyone answering ‘yes’ to being bias against transgender people could get on the jury,” Light said.

Light said he also was pleased that Judge Canan showed sensitivity to transgender people when he instructed one of the defense attorneys to address one of the transgender women in the case with a female rather than a male pronoun.

The judge spoke out on the issue before the jury entered the courtroom when the defense attorney referred to complaining witness and gunshot wound victim Chloe Moore, whose legal name is Alexander Moore, Light said. According to Light, the defense attorney referred to Moore as “Mr. Moore” until Judge Canan instructed him to refer to Moore as “Ms. Moore.”

A police spokesperson said Furr has been suspended indefinitely without pay since shortly after his arrest.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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