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Probation for D.C. cop in trans shooting case

Judge rejects prosecutor’s request for five-year jail term

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Metro DC Police, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. police officer Kenneth Furr was sentenced in a case 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 in August 2011 of firing his service revolver into a car occupied by three transgender women and two male friends was sentenced on Thursday to three years of supervised probation, a $150 fine, and 100 hours of community service.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell Canan also sentenced Officer Kenneth Furr, 48, to five years in prison but suspended all but 14 months of the prison term and credited Furr with the 14 months he already served between the time of his arrest and his trial last October.

Canan released Furr October 26 while awaiting sentencing after a Superior Court jury convicted him of assault with a deadly weapon and solicitation for prostitution but acquitted him on six other charges, including the most serious charge of assault with intent to kill while armed.

The latter charge was linked to his firing of five shots into the car where the transgender women and their friends were sitting.

Police and prosecutors have said the shooting occurred following a confrontation that started when Furr solicited one of the transgender women for sex for money at 5th and K Streets, N.W., and followed the woman after she rejected his offer. Furr then argued with one or more of her friends who asked Furr leave her alone.

At the time of his arrest, police said Furr’s blood alcohol level was twice that of the legal limit for drivers.

Canan rejected a request by Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Worm, the lead prosecutor, that Furr be given the maximum sentence of 5 years in prison for the assault with a deadly weapon charge. He also denied her request for an additional three months incarceration for the solicitation conviction.

News of the shooting outraged LGBT activists as well as Mayor Vincent Gray and members of the D.C. City Council, who called for stepped up efforts to curtail violence against the city’s transgender community.

The D.C. Trans Coalition issued a statement late Thursday calling the sentence of no additional jail time for Furr “outrageous” and said it would heighten longstanding fears by the transgender community of mistreatment and abuse by police officers.

“This result is the product of a legal system that constantly devalues trans lives, particularly trans people of color,” said D.C. Trans Coalition member Jason Terry. “Officer Furr’s defense team actively sought to portray the victims as somehow deserving of this violence, and apparently they succeeded,” he said.

“If roles had been reversed and a black trans woman had gotten drunk and shot a gun at a police officer, the results would be drastically different,” Terry said.

Court observers said the jury’s decision to find Furr not guilty on the assault with intent to kill while armed charge most likely resulted from a successful effort by Furr’s attorneys to portray the shooting as an act of self-defense.

Canan said his suspension of 46 months of the 60 month (five year) prison term was contingent upon Furr’s successful completion of his three year probation period and other restrictions, including a requirement that he stay away from the five complainants.

Court records show Canan also ordered Furr to stay away from “the area bounded by: New York Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, 7th Street, N.W. and North Capitol Street, N.W.,” which is widely known as one of the city’s transgender prostitution zones.

In addition, Canan set as a condition for the parole that Furr enter an alcohol treatment program and enroll in anger management classes.

In the sentencing memorandum on behalf of the U.S. Attorney’s office, Worm said one reason why Furr was not a good candidate for a sentence involving parole and no prison time was that he failed to immediately comply with his pre-sentencing release conditions. She noted that although he was instructed to report immediately after his release on Oct. 26 for regular alcohol testing and other conditions, he did not report for the testing until a full month after his release.

The charge of assault with a deadly weapon, on which he was convicted, stemmed from allegations by prosecutors that Furr pointed his gun at one of the transgender women’s friends outside a CVS store on the 400 block of Massachusetts Ave., N.W. at about 5 a.m. on Aug 26, 2011.

According to testimony by the victims, Furr solicited one of the trans women propositioning sex for money minutes earlier on the street at 5th and K Streets, N.W. The woman rebuffed his request and walked away, but Furr followed her to the CVS store, where one of her male friends called on Furr to leave her alone, witnesses reported.

Furr then started an argument that continued outside the store, where Furr pulled out his gun and pointed it at the women’s friend.

Although Furr did not fire the gun, prosecutors argued his action constituted an assault with a deadly weapon and persuaded the jury to convict him on that count.

During the trial the defense presented evidence, which prosecutors acknowledged was factually correct, that the trans women and their male friends responded by following Furr in their car after Furr drove away from the CVS store.

Trial testimony showed that the group followed Furr to the area of 3rd and K Street, N.W., where they observed Furr attempting to solicit another transgender woman for sex. At that point, two of the people in the car got out and confronted Furr and one or both of them assaulted Furr, witnesses testified during the trial.

Furr then returned to his car and drove away, with the trans women and their male friends following him again, witnesses testified. This prompted Furr to stop his car at First and Pierce Streets, N.W., and fire his gun at the other car, which Furr’s lawyer said was in pursuit of his, according to testimony at the trial.

One of the male friends driving the vehicle ducked to avoid being shot and unintentionally rammed the car into Furr’s car, witnesses testified.

Furr responded by climbing on the hood of the car occupied by the transgender women and their friends and fired five times through the front windshield, causing three of the occupants to suffer non-fatal gunshot wounds.

Within minutes D.C. police rushed to the scene and arrested Furr, who was found to have a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit under D.C. law.

David Knight, Furr’s lead defense attorney, appeared to have persuaded the jury that the people he shot at were the aggressors and Furr acted in self-defense, court observers said.

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

In her sentencing memorandum, Worm said that at no point did Furr identify himself as a police officer to the complainants nor did he call for police help if he believed he was in danger.

“To be sure, some of the complainants involved in this incident engaged in risky behavior and bad judgment,” she said in the memo.

“The government does not minimize the fact that both parties had opportunities to withdraw from this conflict, but the government’s view, as exhibited in its charging decisions, is that the defendant bore criminal responsibility for provoking and escalating the conflict, and introducing a deadly weapon into a situation that could have otherwise been resolved,” Worm wrote in the memo.

“Many of the witnesses who testified at trial were associated, in some way, with Washington, D.C.’s transgender community,” Worm said in the memo. “That community has historically suffered discrimination from a variety of sources. Moreover, the members of the transgender community bear a heightened risk that they will be victims of violent crime,” she wrote.

“This defendant was a police officer charged with protecting and serving the citizens of the District of Columbia,” she said. “Defendant Furr’s actions on the night of this offense increased the transgender community’s already significant safety concerns and their distrust of the Metropolitan Police Department.”

D.C. police spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump said Furr has been suspended without pay and that the department will follow its standard procedure for dealing with an officer convicted of a felony. Police observers have said a felony conviction, especially one associated with violence, usually results in the firing of a police officer.

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District of Columbia

Three of five LGBTQ candidates win race for DNC delegate from D.C.

32 candidates competed for 13 elected seats in party caucus

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John Fanning finished in first place in the race for DNC delegate. (Photo courtesy of Fanning)

Three out of five known LGBTQ candidates running for election as delegates from D.C. to the Democratic National Convention won their races at an April 20 Democratic Party caucus election held at D.C.’s Walter Washington Convention Center.

Ward 2 gay Democratic activist John Fanning finished in first place with 140 votes and Ward 8 gay Democratic activist David Meadows finished in second place with 127 votes in a race in which six male candidates committed to supporting President Biden were competing for three male seats in a section of the city designated as Congressional District 1, which included registered Democratic voters in Wards 1, 2, 6, and 8.

Ward 7 gay Democratic activist Jimmie Williams won his race, finishing in third place with 200 votes in a race in which eight male candidates committed to President Biden competed for four male seats in the Congressional District 2 section of the city that included Wards 3, 4, 5, and 7.

Gay Democratic activist Felipe Afanador lost his race, finishing in sixth place with 47 votes in the Congressional District 2 election for male candidates backing Biden. It couldn’t immediately be determined which of the four wards in District 2 he is from.

The Washington Blade didn’t learn about Afanador’s status as an LGBTQ candidate until the Capital Stonewall Democrats announced it one day before the April 20 party election in an email statement.

In the Congressional District 2 race among female candidates, in which eight candidates competed for three female seats, transgender rights advocate and Ward 3 Democratic Party activist Monika Nemeth lost her race, finishing in sixth place with 49 votes.

The five LGBTQ candidates were among 32 candidates competing for just 13 elected delegate positions in D.C. D.C. will have a total of 51 delegates to the Democratic Convention, but the other 38 include elected officials and party leaders who are considered “automatic” or appointed delegates. The Democratic Convention will be held in Chicago Aug. 19-23.

Observers familiar with the April 20 party caucus election said Fanning, Meadows, and Williams had participated in local D.C. Democratic Party events and activities for a longer period than Nemeth and Afanador and appear to have been better known among Democratic voters in their respective wards as well as other wards. Those factors contributed to their receiving significantly more votes than most other candidates, observers have said. 

In his candidacy statement posted on the D.C. Democratic Party website, Afanador said he worked on the 2020 Biden presidential election campaign in Pennsylvania. His LinkedIn page says in 2022 he began work in Washington for the Biden administration as an official in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nemeth is a past president of D.C.’s Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest LGBTQ local political group, and has been an active member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, the local party governing body. She served as a Biden delegate at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

“It is important for our D.C. delegation to have strong LGBTQ representation,” Capital Stonewall Democrats said in its April 19 statement. “There are five LGBQ candidates running to be delegate, and Capital Stonewall Democrats asks that our members support each one,” the statement says.

“Unfortunately, they fell short, but they and all queer Democrats are welcome to attend and participate in convention events and activities sponsored by the national and local party,” Meadows told the Blade in referring to Nemeth and Afanador. “Our shared goal is to unite behind the Biden-Harris ticket to protect our LGBTQ rights from being dismantled by Donald Trump and the GOP,” Meadows said.

“Running for District Delegate is one of the most grassroots efforts,” Fanning told the Blade. “It’s very beneficial to align yourself on a slate with community leaders that have either previously run for District Delegate or have developed a constituency in their community from other civic engagements,” he said, referring to possible reasons for his, Meadows, and Williams’s election victory.

Aside from the D.C. elected LGBTQ delegates, two prominent D.C. LGBTQ Democratic leaders will be appointed as delegates to the 2024 Democratic National Convention in their role as members of the Democratic National Committee from D.C. They are Claire Lucas, a highly acclaimed Democratic Party and LGBTQ rights advocate and party fundraiser; and Earl Fowlkes, one of the lead organizers of D.C.’s annual Black LGBTQ Pride celebration and former president of the Capital Stonewall Democrats. Both are committed to supporting President Biden as the Democratic nominee for re-election.

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Maryland

Joe Vogel campaign holds ‘Big Gay Canvass Kickoff’

Gay Md. lawmaker running for Congress

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Maryland state Del. Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery County) attends the "Big Gay Canvass Kickoff" event at his congressional campaign headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., on April 19, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Maryland state Del. Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery County) on Friday held a “Big Gay Canvass Kickoff” event at his congressional campaign’s headquarters.

LGBTQ+ Victory Fund Vice President of Outreach and Engagement Marty Rouse and John Klenert, a member of the DC Vote and Victory Fund Campaign board of directors, are among those who participated alongside members of Equality PAC. Vogel spoke before Rouse, Klenert and others canvassed for votes in the area.

“Joe brings a fresh new perspective to politics,” said Gabri Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, deputy field director for Vogel’s campaign.

Vogel, 27, is among the Democrats running for Congressman David Trone’s seat.

Trone last May announced his bid to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) in the U.S. Senate. 

The Democratic primary is on May 14. Vogel would be the first Latino, the first gay man and first Gen Zer elected to Congress from Maryland if he were to win in November.

“We need a new generation of leadership with new perspectives, new ideas, and the courage to actually deliver for our communities if we want things to get better in this country,” Vogel told the Washington Blade last month during an interview in D.C.

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Maryland

Montgomery County police chief discusses arrest of trans student charged with planned school shooting

County executive tells news conference student’s trans identity is irrelevant to criminal charge

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(Photo by jiawangkun/Bigstock)

Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Marcus Jones joined other county and law enforcement officials at a news conference on Friday, April 19, to provide details of the police investigation and arrest of an 18-year-old high school student charged two days earlier with threats of mass violence based on information that he allegedly planed a mass shooting at the high school and elementary school he attended in Rockville, Md.

In charging documents and in a press release issued on April 18, Montgomery County Police identified the arrested student as “Andrea Ye, of Rockville, whose preferred name is Alex Ye.”

One of the charging documents states that a friend of Ye, who police say came forward as a witness who played a crucial role in alerting authorities to Ye’s threats of a school shooting, noted that Ye told the witness that Ye identified as the transgender student he wrote about as character in a 129-page manifesto outlining plans for a school shooting. Police have said Ye told them the manifesto was a fictional story he planned to publish.  

At the news conference on Friday, Police Chief Jones and other law enforcement officials, including an FBI official and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, referred to the student as Alex Ye and Mr. Ye. None of the officials raised the issue of whether Ye identified as a transgender man, seven though one of the police documents identifies Ye as a “biological female.”

County Executive Elrich appeared to express the views of the public officials at the news conference when one of the media reporters, during a question-and-answer period, asked Elrich why he and the others who spoke at the news conferment failed to “admit that this individual was transgender.”

“Because it’s not a lead,” Elrich replied, asking if the press and law enforcement authorities should disclose that someone arrested for murder is “a white Christian male who’s heterosexual.” Elrich stated, “No, you don’t – You never publish somebody’s sexual orientation when we talk about this. Why you are focusing on this being a transgender is beyond me. It’s not a news story. It is not a crime to  be transgender.”

The reporter attempted to respond but was cut off by the press conference moderator, who called on someone else to ask the next question.

In his remarks at the press conference Chief Jones praised the so far unidentified witness who was the first to alert authorities about Ye’s manifesto appearing to make threats of a mass school shooting.

“Now, this is a situation that highlights  the critical importance of vigilance and community involvement in preventing potential tragedies,” Jones said. “I commend the collaborative efforts of the Montgomery County Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation,  the Rockville City Police Department, and the Montgomery County Public Schools, as well as Montgomery County Health and Human Services,” he told the gathering.

“Thanks to their swift action and cooperation a potentially catastrophic event was prevented,” Jones said.

Jones pointed out that during the current school year, police have received reports of 140 threats to the public schools in Montgomery County. He said after a thorough investigation, none of them rose to the level where an arrest was made. Instead, police and school officials took steps to arrange for the student making the threats and their parents to take remedial action, including providing  mental health services.

“But this case is different,” Jones said. “This case is entirely different that takes it to a different level. It was a concerned witness who brought this matter to light by rereporting the suspect’s manifesto to the authorities. This underscores the value of community engagement and the ‘see something say something’ approach,” he said.

Jones mentioned at the press conference that Ye was  being held without bond since the time of his arrest but was scheduled to appear in court for a bond hearing on Friday shortly after the press conference took place to determine whether he should be released while awaiting trial or continue to be held.

In his manifesto obtained by police, Ye writes about committing a school shooting, and strategizes how to carry out the act. Ye also contemplates targeting an elementary school and says that he wants to be famous.

In charging documents reported on by WJLA 7 and WBAL 11, the 129-page document, which Ye has referred to as a book of fiction, included writings that said, in part:

“I want to shoot up a school. I’ve been preparing for months. The gun is an AR-15. This gun is going to change lives tomorrow … As I walk through the hallways, I cherry pick the classrooms that are the easiest targets. I need to figure out how to sneak the gun in. I have contemplated making bombs. The instructions to make them are surprisingly available online. I have also considered shooting up my former elementary school because little kids make easier targets. High school’s the best target; I’m the most familiar with the layout. I pace around my room like an evil mastermind. I’ve put so much effort into this. My ultimate goal would be to set the world record for the most amount of kills in a shooting. If I have time, I’ll try to decapitate my victims with a knife to turn the injuries into deaths.”

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