September 28, 2013 at 11:35 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Case of assault on drag performer expected to be dropped
Miles DeNiro, Manny & Olga's, hate crime, gay news, Washington Blade

Miles Denaro (Screen capture)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Friday approved a plea bargain agreement expected to result in the dismissal of a charge of simple assault against the second of two women accused of dragging a gay male drag performer by the hair at a D.C. carry-out pizzeria in June that was captured on video.

Under the agreement offered by the U.S. Attorney’s office, Raymone Harding, 28, of Gaithersburg, Md., pleaded guilty to the assault charge in exchange for being allowed to withdraw the plea and have the charge dismissed if she successfully completes 48 hours of community service over a period of six months.

The agreement also requires her to stay out of trouble, stay away from the man she was charged with assaulting — Miles Denaro, 24 — and undergo a drug test as directed by the court’s Pre-Trial Services Agency.

Judge Juliet J. McKenna approved the agreement for Harding one week after she approved an identical plea agreement for co-defendant Rachel M. Sahle, 22, also from Gaithersburg.

“This is essentially less than a slap on the wrist,” Denaro told the Blade when informed of the outcome of Friday’s court proceeding.

He said one of the prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Missler, called him a little over a week ago to inform him of plans for the plea bargain offer and to get his thoughts on the matter. Denaro said Missler told him the two women would be required to perform community service work rather than jail time.

“He said allegedly the judge they are seeing is lenient so he was leaning toward doing this so that way they get community service no matter what,” said Denaro.

hate crime, Manny & Olga's, gay news, Washington Blade

A video of the altercation involving drag performer Miles Denaro at Manny & Olga’s pizzeria on 14th Street, N.W., shows these two women assaulting Denaro as one of them drags him by his hair across the floor. (Screen captures)

In a development that had not been previously disclosed, Denaro told the Blade on Friday that he was called to testify before a grand jury convened by prosecutors in July in connection with the assault charges pending against Harding and Sahle.

According to court records, the grand jury did not hand down an indictment in the case, an outcome that court observers consider unusual because grand juries usually follow the recommendation of prosecutors by approving an indictment.

The decision by prosecutors to offer the two women the plea agreement is likely to surprise LGBT activists because it came shortly after the U.S. Attorney’s office told the court it was looking into the possibility of upgrading the assault charge with a “bias” or hate crime designation.

“The government is not seeking a bias enhancement based on the results of a thorough investigation and review of the case,” William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, told the Blade.

Miller said he could not comment on whether a grand jury is convened on a specific case but said that in general grand juries are sometimes called to assist in an investigation rather than for the purpose of an indictment.

“It is used to get people to testify under oath as an investigative tool,” he said.

D.C. attorney Dale Edwin Sanders, who practices criminal law in D.C. and Virginia, said the fact that the assault against Denaro was captured on video provided prosecutors with a strong case with a good chance of obtaining a conviction against the two women had the case gone to trial.

He said Denaro’s statements that the two women made anti-transgender and anti-gay remarks toward him during and immediately after the attack made a strong case for designating the incident as a hate crime.

“I think this is ridiculously lenient for what happened,” said Sanders in referring to the plea agreement. “To me this sounds like a total whitewash.”

The June 23 incident at Manny & Olga’s pizzeria at 1841 14th St., N.W., created an uproar in the LGBT community after a customer used his cell phone to record the altercation on video and posted the video on a popular hip-hop music website, resulting in it being viewed by thousands in D.C. and across the country.

According to police and court records, the video taken by the customer and a separate video taken by security cameras at the restaurant show Denaro being punched, kicked and dragged across the floor by the hair after being knocked down by the two women. The video posted online also shows that many of the bystanders screamed and laughed as the altercation unfolded. Denaro said no one, including employees at the restaurant, intervened to stop the assault.

He said one or both of the women shouted that he was a man and a “tranny” as they hit him. According to his account of what happened, one of the women called him a “faggot” after the altercation ended when they saw him walk past them on the sidewalk outside.

Miller of the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the plea agreements offered to the two women are part of a widely used court “diversion/deferred sentencing” program that’s limited to misdemeanor cases involving defendants with no prior criminal record.

“Where a defendant is charged with an offense that is potentially diversion eligible, we look at the facts and circumstances surrounding the event and make a determination as to whether diversion is appropriate,” he said.

“A supervisor has to approve a simple assault case for diversion, adding another layer of scrutiny,” he added.

Hassan Naveed, co-chair of the D.C.-based Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), said the group is assessing the plea bargain agreement offered in the Denaro assault case and would issue a statement on the development shortly.

D.C. transgender activist Jeri Hughes said she was troubled over the outcome of the case, which she said appears to her as a hate crime.

“You’ve got people like trans women in jail because they are poor and turn to prostitution,” Hughes said. “And here are two people who commit a violent attack and they are going to walk. This is unacceptable.”

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

  • Shouldn’t the word in the headline be “incident” instead of “assault” since there has always been controversy about which side started it and shoved first, and because the grand jury refused to indict & the US attorney decided against filing a hate-crime charge?

  • Is it DeNiro, Dinero or Denaro, you have it spelled all three ways in this article. Might I suggest a proof reader.

  • bullshit! This is what we get from the AG…fire them all for being pussy when it comes to crime. No wonder why we have people committing acts of violence because the freaking lawyers have no balls to put these folks in jail. the community service they get shoul d be in a Gay Tans group at the least!

  • Civil suit for damages should be the next move.

  • arrest the fucker that filmed it for inciting the fight

  • The bitch with the braids needs to give the horse back its hair. And the fucking asshole who filmed it should also be charged. I cant believe no one did anything. Its fucking disgusting.

  • sad sad sad what is this world coming to? i hate crimes against the gay community drag community what people don't understand is that they are people too they are just stuck in the wrong body. if they are not hurting you don't bother them they are just trying to find their place in the world it sucks that all people want to do is bully and that is bullshit

  • I cant believe that someone would do this…Well yes I do people are cruel creatures that if you do something that is different you are shunned. She had every right to be there and that women had no right to touch. God I hate humans

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