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D.C. cop convicted of assault with dangerous weapon in trans shooting case

Suspended officer acquitted on more serious charge of assault with intent to kill while armed

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Gay News, Washington Blade, Crime
Metro DC Police, gay news, Washington Blade

In a development likely to raise concern among LGBT activists, the jury found D.C. police officer Kenneth Furr not-guilty of all charges related to the firing of his gun through the windshield of a car with the five people inside. (Washington Blade photo by Phil Reese)

An off-duty D.C. police officer accused of firing his service revolver into a car occupied by three transgender women and two male friends in August 2011 was convicted Friday of assault with a dangerous weapon and solicitation for prostitution.

But a D.C. Superior Court jury also found Officer Kenneth Furr, 48, not guilty of six other charges, including the more serious offense of assault with intent to kill while armed.

In a development likely to raise concern among LGBT activists, the jury found Furr not-guilty of all charges related to the firing of his gun through the windshield of the car with the five people inside.

Although three of them suffered non-life-threatening bullet wounds and two weren’t hit, prosecutors said any of the five could have been killed.

“I really wonder what the jury heard and how they could decide not to find intent to kill,” said transgender activist Jeri Hughes. “You don’t fire a gun several times at people and not have intent to kill.”

“It sounds like the defense did a good job in demonizing the victims,” said Hughes, who was among many LGBT activists who viewed the incident as another in series of violent attacks against LGBT people in the city over the past several years.

Police and prosecutors said the incident started with a verbal dispute between Furr and one of the transgender women and her friends when Furr became angry and “aggressive” after the woman refused his offer of money for sex in the area of 5th and K St., N.W.

Transgender Day of Action, gay news, Washington Blade

An increase in violence against trans individuals have prompted activists to become more visible. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Superior Court Judge Russell Canan scheduled a sentencing hearing for Jan. 10, 2013. At the request of Furr’s attorneys, Canan released Furr into the court’s high intensity supervision program, which requires that he wear an electronic ankle bracelet and undergo alcohol and drug tests. He had been held in jail since the time of his arrest.

The verdict came after the jury deliberated for nearly nine hours over a two-day period and followed a five-day trial in which the defense disclosed information not previously made public that appears to have strengthened its claim that Furr acted in self-defense.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Worm, the lead prosecutor, argued that Furr acted in a reckless manner and in anger by firing his gun into a car with five unarmed people inside.

A police arrest affidavit says the people in the car reported that Furr shouted, “You’re going to die” seconds before he began shooting. The affidavit says Furr had a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit at the time he was arrested. D.C. police charged him with driving while intoxicated, but that charge was later dropped.

“His actions that day were not okay for a police officer, a teacher or a construction worker,” the Washington Post quoted Worm as telling the jury in opening arguments.

Dispute unfolded prior to shooting

However, in a statement released after the verdict on Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s office acknowledged that the three transgender women and their two male friends chased after Furr in their car after the dispute between the two parties continued to unfold.

At one point, one of the men assaulted Furr, prompting Furr to flee in his car with the trans women and their male friends following him again, according to the U.S. Attorney’s statement.

Fearing for his life, Furr pulled out his gun and began to shoot after seeing the other car in hot pursuit, said David Knight, one of two Public Defender Service lawyers that represented Furr.

“He was alone, outnumbered and under attack,” the Post quoted Knight telling the jury. “He was threatened, assaulted and pursued by a car full of people who wanted to do him harm,” the Post quoted him as saying.

In its statement released after the verdict, the U.S. Attorney’s office said the incident began in the early morning hours of Aug. 26, 2011 when Furr, who was off duty, attempted to pick up transgender prostitutes in an area near 5th and K Streets, N.W., which has long been known as a hangout for transgender sex workers.

“His initial attempts to pick up one transgender woman were rejected by her,” the statement says. “He nonetheless followed her into a drug store at 400 Massachusetts Avenue. Once inside, he continued to solicit her in front of two of her acquaintances,” the statement says.

It says Furr got into a “verbal altercation” with one of the male acquaintances. The statement says a short time later Furr confronted the two acquaintances outside the store and, after more words were exchanged, reached into the glove compartment of his car and pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and pointed it at them.

“[T]his is the offense that led to the guilty verdict on the charge of assault with a dangerous weapon,” the U.S. Attorney’s statement says.

It says that about 20 minutes later three of the complainants from the incident at the drug store and two of their friends crossed paths with Furr in the area of 5th and K Streets, N.W.

“Furr once again was attempting to solicit a transgender prostitute,” the statement says. “The complainants pulled their car next to Furr’s, and at least one of the occupants in the complainants’ car assaulted Furr. Furr sped off and the complainants’ car followed.”

With the complainants following him, Furr drove to the intersection of First and Pierce Streets, N.W., parked his car and began firing his gun at the complainants’ car, the statement says.

“The driver of the victims’ car ducked and hit the accelerator, crashing into the side of Furr’s vehicle,” it says. “Furr then jumped on the hood of the occupied vehicle and continued shooting, firing a total of five rounds. Three of the occupants of the car suffered injuries.”

According to court records and a police report, D.C. police officers who had been on patrol in the area heard the shots being fired and rushed to the scene and placed Furr under arrest.

Furr was held in jail from the time of his arrest to the day of the verdict in his trial, when Canan agreed to release him into the high intensity supervision program while he awaits his Jan. 10 sentencing.

He faces a possible maximum sentence of ten years in prison on the assault with a dangerous weapon charge and up to 90 days on the prostitution charge.

A police spokesperson said Furr has been on indefinite unpaid leave since shortly after his arrest.

On March 7 of this year, a D.C. Superior court grand jury handed down a 9-count indictment against Furr, which 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.

At the conclusion of the trial but prior to the case going to the jury, Canan agreed to a defense motion to have the second prostitution charge dismissed, according to court records.

Court records show that the jury acquitted Furr on five counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of assault with intent to kill while armed.

Defense attorney raises issue of victims’ criminal records, conflicting statements

At least two of the five victims were subjected to intense questioning from defense attorney Knight, who pointed to discrepancies between their trial testimony and testimony before the grand jury.

Chloe Alexander Moore, one of the transgender women involved in the case, testified that Furr solicited her for sex for money at the 5th and K Street, N.W. location and inside a CVS drug store nearby. In response to questioning by Knight, she acknowledged that she failed to tell the grand jury that one of her male friends assaulted Furr on the night of the incident prior to the shooting, according to the Washington Post.

Knight also brought up a solicitation charge pending against her in D.C. and asked if prosecutors in the Furr case promised her special consideration in her pending case if she cooperated by testifying against Furr.

“Of course,” the Post quoted her as saying. “Who wouldn’t want a case dropped for something you weren’t guilty of,” the Post quoted her as saying.

John Brand, one of the two male friends in the car with the three transgender women at the time of the shooting, testified that he was drunk at the time of the incident and could not remember whether he assaulted Furr.

Asked by Knight whether it is possible that he did commit the assault, Brand said, “Yes.”

Knight also asked Brand about his own past criminal record, which includes arrests for marijuana possession and distribution and an illegal gun possession charge.

Observers of criminal trials say it’s a common practice for defense attorneys to raise questions about the credibility of prosecution witnesses. It’s the job of prosecutors to remind jurors that a prior criminal record doesn’t mean a witness’s credibility should be automatically discarded, court observers have said.

Jeffrey Light, an attorney for the D.C. Trans Coalition who attended part of the trial, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“This verdict does not seem unreasonable to me, especially considering the credibility issues of the government’s witnesses and the obvious strong self-defense component to the case,” said D.C. area attorney Dale Edwin Sanders.

“No one would have been injured if the victims had not chased down Furr in their vehicle after first assaulting him in an altercation in which apparently Furr did not respond aggressively…and left the scene,” said Sanders in speculating on how jurors may have viewed the incident.

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Maryland

Hyattsville mayor dies by suicide

Kevin Ward and husband adopted son in D.C. in 2012

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Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward (Photo courtesy of the city of Hyattsville)

The city of Hyattsville released a statement on Wednesday afternoon announcing that their city’s openly gay Mayor Kevin Ward had died one day earlier by an apparent suicide.

“The city of Hyattsville reports with great sadness that our beloved Mayor Kevin Ward passed away yesterday, Jan. 25, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the statement says.

“Mayor Ward was a valued and trusted leader and a fierce advocate for all the people of Hyattsville,” the statement continues. “We are heartbroken at this loss and extend our deepest sympathy to the mayor’s family,” it says.

“No further information is available at this time,” the statement adds. “Details about services and remembrances will be shared when they are available.”

The Washington Post reported that U.S. Park Police disclosed that Ward was found deceased in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Va., with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Ward, 44, became acting mayor of Hyattsville on Jan. 1, 2021, following the resignation of former Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. He was next in line to become mayor under the city’s political system in his then-position as president of the Hyattsville City Council.

He won election to complete the remainder of Hollingsworth’s term through 2023 in a May 11, 2021, special election, receiving 57.8 percent of the vote in a three candidate race, according to the Hyattsville election board. His closest opponent, Joseph Solomon, received 31.7 percent of the vote.

Nearby fellow gay mayors — Patrick Wojahn of College Park and Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset — said they got to know Ward through Maryland political circles and thought very highly of him.

“He was insightful, smart and dedicated,” Wojahn said. “He always seemed very confident and together as a person. And he had a great sense of humor.”

Slavin said he shared that remembrance of Ward, adding that he found Ward to be a “very nice person” dedicated to the people he served both as mayor and during his two terms on the Hyattsville City Council.

“There was noting in his public life that would have predicted this,” said Slavin in referring to Ward’s sudden passing.

The Washington Blade first reported on Ward in 2012 in a feature story on Ward and his then-domestic partner Chad Copeland when the two attended a ceremony at the D.C. Superior Court to complete the process of adopting their then-5-year-old son Norman. Ward and Copeland were among several gay couples who had their adoption papers signed by a judge at the ceremony.

On the website for his mayoral election campaign last year Ward said he and his family made Hyattsville their home in 2014 after he and his husband adopted their two sons.

“I am a pretty straightforward person,” he said in message to voters on his campaign website. “I believe in listening more than talking. But when I talk, I am not one to mince words or tell people what they want to hear,” he said. “I believe in doing the work. I believe that if I can help someone, then I can change her or his life,” he continued.

“This is why I dedicated my career to providing the best technology to education and to human services, to help as many people as I can,” he said.  

Ward was referring to his career in the field of educational and human services technology.

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District of Columbia

ANC supports license for Capitol Hill LGBTQ bar

Lesbian owners back ‘settlement agreement’ with restrictions on hours

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AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

The Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B voted unanimously on Tuesday night to support a liquor license for the LGBTQ-owned As You Are Bar, which plans to open in a two-story building at 500 8th St., S.E. in a commercial section of Capitol Hill known as Barracks Row.

The ANC’s decision to support the license took place at a virtual meeting attended by nearby residents and supporters of the bar after its owners, lesbian activists Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, agreed to the terms of an ANC settlement agreement that calls for restrictions in the hours the bar can offer dancing, entertainment, and music from a DJ.

The agreement means the ANC will not file a protest against the license before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, a development that would have delayed a decision on the license by the ABC Board by as much as seven months. A protest by the ANC could have cost the bar thousands of dollars in legal fees to contest the protest by providing legal arguments seeking the approval of the license.

The ABC Board makes the final decision on whether to approve all liquor licenses in the city.

McDaniel and Pike have said they plan to operate an upstairs dance bar during evening hours and a café on the first floor during the day as well as in the evenings that will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture.”

The two, who are business and life partners, say As You Are Bar will welcome people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities as well as drinkers and non-drinkers as customers.

They have also told the ANC and nearby residents they have taken steps to soundproof the building, which they are renting, to ensure their plans to operate a dance bar with music from a DJ on the second floor will not disturb nearby residents.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, which was posted on the ANC’s website prior to the start of the meeting, the bar’s operating hours will be from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Under D.C. law, bars are allowed to remain open for the sale of alcoholic beverages until 2 a.m. during weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Settlement Agreement further calls for As You Are Bar to restrict the hours of consumption of alcohol from 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It calls for allowing live entertainment and dancing (indoors only) from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 12 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

However, the agreement says DJ and amplified music will not be permitted after 8 p.m. on weekdays.

 McDaniel told the Blade that at the request of As You Are Bar’s attorney Richard Bianco, the ANC agreed to modify that restriction at the Tuesday night meeting to allow the bar to play “conversational” background music after 8 p.m. until closing time on weekdays.

 Among other things, the agreement requires the bar comply with a noise mitigation provision to “ensure that sound, noise, and vibrations are not audible or felt beyond the curb or any other premises at any time.” It also calls on the bar to provide an “appropriate number of staff” to monitor patrons as they leave the bar through the 8th Street entrance to “prevent loud voices and littering.”

Under rules established by the ABC Board and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration or ABRA, if a settlement agreement is reached between an applicant for a liquor license and the ANC, a protest against the license by groups of five or more citizens is not allowed. Protests could still be filed by community-based civic groups and residents of an “abutting” house or residential facility.

In the case of As You Are Bar, no citizens group has emerged to oppose the license. There is just one abutting townhouse on E Street whose owner has expressed general support for the settlement agreement, according to McDaniel. But the resident has indicated she will not rule out a possible protest until Feb. 7, which is the deadline for filing a protest under ABRA’s rules.

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Virginia

Youngkin mum on whether parents should report teaching of LGBTQ topics

Republican governor on Monday touted tip line during an interview

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A spokesperson for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has yet to clarify whether the governor is encouraging parents to report educators who are teaching LGBTQ-specific topics.

The Washington Post reported Youngkin on Monday during an interview with John Fredericks on “Outside the Beltway with John Fredericks” referenced a tip line that parents can use to report the teaching of “divisive” subjects.

“We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations [to] help us be aware … of their child being denied their rights that parents have in Virginia, and we’re going to make sure we catalogue it all,” Youngkin told Fredericks, according to the Post.

Fredericks co-chaired former President Trump’s 2016 campaign in Virginia.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter on Tuesday did not respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the tip line.

The first executive order that Youngkin, who is a Republican, issued after he took office on Jan. 15 ended “the use of” so-called “critical race theory” (which is not taught in Virginia public schools) and other “divisive concepts” in the state’s classrooms.

Youngkin during his campaign against Terry McAuliffe expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended from his job after he spoke out against Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students. Youngkin has also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Youngkin has named Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, to his administration.

Republicans control the House of Delegates by a 52-48 vote margin. Democrats have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate.

State Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) has introduced Senate Bill 20, which would eliminate the requirement that school districts must implement the Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines. State Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) has put forth Senate Bill 766, which would ban trans students from school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. State Del. John Avoli (R-Stanton) has sponsored House Bill 1126, which would restrict the ability of transgender students and school board employees to use bathrooms and other facilities in public schools.

Democrats have vowed to block any anti-LGBTQ bill in the General Assembly.

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