July 12, 2015 at 11:48 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
‘Runaway’ grand jury rebukes U.S. Attorney, indicts on hate crime
hate crime, gay news, Washington Blade

On June 29, D.C. Superior Court Judge Yvonne Williams sentenced the Lucas siblings to one year in jail and five years of supervised probation upon their release.

A D.C. Superior Court grand jury in August 2014 took the unusual step of handing down a hate crime indictment in an anti-gay assault case after a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not recommend the case be listed as a hate crime, according to one of the grand jurors who heard the case.

The former grand juror, who spoke to the Washington Blade on condition of not being identified, said witnesses, including a police detective and the gay male victim, told the grand jury that then 20-year-old Christina Lucas and her twin brother Christopher Lucas knocked the gay male victim to the ground and punched and kicked him while shouting anti-gay names.

A police report says witnesses told police that Christina Lucas slashed the victim’s face with a sharp object while he was lying on the ground shortly after calling him a “faggot motherfucker.”

Court records show that at the time of her arrest, Christina Lucas told police she is a lesbian and shouldn’t rightfully be accused of committing an anti-gay hate crime.

Police and prosecutors said the incident occurred on Oct. 19, 2013 at the intersection of Sherman Avenue and Harvard Street, N.W. The police report says the assault began shortly after the victim and his mother and female cousin left a party at a nearby house and were attempting to hail a taxicab.

“The only reason that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has brought this case against the Lucas’s as an assault with a hate crime attachment was because the grand jury insisted upon it,” said the former grand juror. “If it had been left up to the U.S. Attorney’s Office a hate crime would not have been attached,” the former grand juror said.

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said strict confidentiality requirements pertaining to grand juries prevent his office from commenting on any aspect of the grand jury’s deliberations over the prosecution of the Lucas siblings.

“We are barred by law from violating the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, and so we are unable to comment regarding that process,” he said.

Court records show that the grand jury indicted Christina and Christopher Lucas on a charge of aggravated assault while armed with a hate crime designation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Veronica Renzi Jennings, the lead prosecutor in the case, made a strong presentation for a hate crime conviction during a two-week-long trial in May before a regular Superior Court jury. After less than a day of deliberations, the jury found the two guilty as charged of committing a hate-related aggravated assault while armed.

The trial jury also found Christopher Lucas guilty of a separate charge of simple assault stemming from the allegation by police that he punched the victim’s cousin in the face during the October 2013 altercation when she attempted to stop the attack against the victim.

On June 29, D.C. Superior Court Judge Yvonne Williams sentenced the Lucas siblings to one year in jail and five years of supervised probation upon their release, a sentence that police and prosecutors believe is far too lenient, according to a police source.

Attorneys representing Christopher and Christina Lucas did not respond to a request by the Blade for comment.

The former grand juror said Jennings may have been one of two female prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office that presented the Lucas case before the grand jury. But now, nearly a year later, the grand juror wasn’t certain that Jennings was one of the two prosecutors that didn’t ask for a hate crime indictment.

“They sort of hemmed and hawed,” the former grand juror said when recounting the two prosecutors’ response to questions by grand jurors over why they didn’t include a hate crime designation in their proposed indictment.

“They never really said we didn’t do it because we didn’t think it was this,” said the grand juror. “They just sort of said, well, we brought it in this way. And if you guys want to add a hate crime I guess you could do so.”

The grand juror added: “I came home really upset that first day because it was clear to me. We heard the witnesses. We heard the mother. We heard the cousin. We heard the police …We heard from the victim himself. It was clear to me it was a hate crime, and they weren’t presenting it that way at all.”

According to the former grand juror, several of the 21 grand jurors hearing the case were troubled further after they told the two prosecutors they wanted to indict the case as a hate crime but the indictment form given to them a short time later made no mention of a hate crime or bias-related charge.

When one of the grand jurors insisted that the indictment include a hate crime attachment the 21 members of the grand jury voted unanimously to add the hate crime designation to the main charge of aggravated assault while armed, said the former grand juror who spoke to the Blade.

“And when they brought it back the second time the hate crime had been added to it because we had insisted on it in the initial vote,” the grand juror said.

Experts familiar with the U.S. grand jury system have sometimes referred to grand juries acting in this way as a “runaway” grand jury.

A paper on the website of the University of Dayton School of Law says historically, many U.S. grand juries in the 19th century were independent-minded and assertive but by the 20th century grand juries had “pretty much” come under the control of prosecutors.

“A runaway grand jury is an exception to this rule – the grand jurors ignore the prosecutor(s) and start making their own decisions,” the paper says.

LGBT activists familiar with the case of the Lucas siblings said that while they were pleased that the U.S. Attorney’s Office diligently prosecuted the case as a hate crime at the trial, they were troubled over the former grand juror’s account that the office initially chose not to ask the grand jury to hand down a hate crime indictment.

“If that’s not a hate crime, I don’t know what is,” said Earl Fowlkes, executive director of the D.C.-based national LGBT advocacy group Center for Black Equity and president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.

“The fact is the grand jury took the opportunity to do the right thing, not the U.S. Attorney,” Fowlkes said.  “But this is not the first time this has happened. There must be some reason why the U.S. Attorney’s Office is so reluctant to do this. There’s been case after case after case.”

Fowlkes was referring to concerns raised by LGBT activists going back more than 10 years about cases in which LGBT people in D.C. have been attacked and murdered and the activists believed the case should be listed as a hate crime but the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not designate it with such a listing.

He noted, among others, the case of 23-year-old transgender woman Deoni JaParker Jones, who was stabbed to death at a bus stop in Northeast D.C. in February 2012. Jones’ parents and friends are convinced she was targeted by the man charged with her murder because of her status as a trans woman. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office said it had insufficient evidence to file a hate crime charge in the case.

In a separate case in September 2008, Tony Randolph Hunter, a gay man leaving his car to go to a gay bar on 9th Street, N.W., was punched in the face by one of several young men walking past him on the street. Hunter fell to the ground, hitting his head on the pavement. He died a short time later at a hospital of a severe brain injury.

The assailant said Hunter groped him in a sexually provocative way, something Hunter’s friends said he would never have done. His friends and community activists became outraged when the U.S. Attorney’s Office ruled out a hate crime and charged the attacker with a misdemeanor simple assault. Again, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said it lacked sufficient evidence to list the case as a hate crime or to elevate the charge to murder, as requested by some local activists.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office has to be answerable to the community,” said Fowlkes.

“This is a longstanding sore point,” said Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office seems bent on ignoring laws it doesn’t like. They are not answerable to District voters or our elected officials, and it shows.”

Dale Edwin Sanders, a local attorney who practices criminal law, said prosecutors are sometimes reluctant to charge a defendant with a hate crime out of concern that it could confuse jurors in a trial and make it more difficult to get a conviction on the underlying charge.

“I think a lot of prosecutors think it is a cumbersome, unnecessary encumbrance upon their ability to get a conviction on the main crime, whether it’s robbery or murder or whatever,” Sanders said. “It complicates the case for them.”

D.C. attorney Chris Farris, former president of the local group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) has said prosecutors have the ability to work around any complications created by a hate crime designation. He has criticized the U.S. Attorney’s Office for failing to prosecute cases of anti-LGBT violence as hate crimes.

Miller, the U.S. Attorney’s spokesperson, points out that his office “vigorously prosecuted” as a hate crime the case against the Lucas twins at their trial.

He also pointed to the case of David Morris, 33, a D.C. man sentenced July 8 to eight years in jail for the brutal beating of a 52-year-old male co-worker whom Morris claims made a “sexual overture toward him.” Miller notes that the U.S. Attorney’s Office obtained a guilty plea from Morris of assault with intent to kill that is designated as a hate crime based on the victim’s perceived sexual orientation.

“[T]he U.S. Attorney’s Office weighs the facts and evidence in each case and aggressively seeks bias enhancements when it is appropriate to do so,” Miller told the Blade in a written statement. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office has zero tolerance for violent crimes driven by ignorant prejudice and will continue to seek sentencing enhancements on behalf of victims of such offenses,” he said.

Fowlkes said he plans to arrange for the Stein Club to call a community meeting to which representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office would be invited to discuss concerns over its handling of what activists believe to be anti-LGBT hate crimes.

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

17 Comments
  • We all understand that DC is a high-profile news city and that its anti-LGBT hate crimes are a political embarrassment to many. So this is not just a criminal justice issue. It’s a political issue too.

    USDOJ and our AUSAs are part of the Executive Branch. President Obama should ask Attorney General Lynch to look into why incredibly violent anti-LGBT hate crimes in DC are being covered up by DC’s Metropolitan Police Department and not prosecuted by his Justice Department.

    Terrific, in-depth Blade reporting. Fowlkes and Rosendall are spot on too.
    ===
    **
    “The fact is the grand jury took the opportunity to do the right thing, not the U.S. Attorney,” Fowlkes said. “But this is not the first time this has happened. There must be some reason why the U.S. Attorney’s Office is so reluctant to do this. There’s been case after case after case.”
    Fowlkes was referring to concerns raised by LGBT activists going back more than 10 years about cases in which LGBT people in D.C. have been attacked and murdered and the activists believed the case should be listed as a hate crime but the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not designate it with such a listing.

    **

  • Great column by Lou. This has been an ongoing issue with the US Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia. I am all for the Stein Club holding a meeting but remember we called the US Attorney’s office and arranged a meeting with them and the MPD which was held at the Foundry Methodist Church with regard to the Tony Hunter case and got nowhere with the US Attorney’s office. I would say this is a runaway US Attorney’s office accountable to no one and it is time that the US Attorney General looking into the workings of the Office. Whether it is not being willing to charge hate crimes or interfering in the last DC Mayoral election- there are many questions they should be answering for.

    • Mayor Bowser is unquestionably the boss of MPD. And Peter, the truth is we haven’t heard much at all from Mayor Bowser to combat anti-LGBT hate crimes.

      IMHO, I think our mayor and our chief of police are engaged in a quiet kind of *conspiracy of silence* to abolish MPD’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU).

      But it’s more than a quiet conspiracy. The mayor’s police department is actually spreading unfounded lies about suspected anti-LGBT hate crimes cases too. The July 4th murder on Metro is just another example of that, IMO.

      That all may fit nicely with US Attorney’s desire to not be bothered with hate crimes too. But there are questions of hate crimes coverups Mayor Bowser and Chief Lanier ‘should be answering for’ as well.

      • If you have any proof of that- let me know- I have spent year’s fighting to keep the GLLU strong.

        • Peter, utter silence by both Bowser and Lanier regarding GLLU and anti-LGBT hate crimes is pretty damning evidence — in the common-sense estimation of many.

          Come to think of it, I don’t recall you saying anything about Lanier’s banishing GLLU from ABC/ABRA-licensed events. How can GLLU fulfill its public safety mission when it’s not allowed its needed community liaison function in and around the very places LGBT hate crime victims actually hang out?

          Then again, if Bowser’s police chief makes GLLU irrelevant for LGBT Community Policing, it’s much easier for her to ignore anti-LGBT hate crimes and eventually get rid of GLLU altogether, eh?

          https://www.washingtonblade.com/2015/04/15/gay-police-unit-may-be-barred-from-most-lgbt-events/

          • You seem to just want to argue and attack me. Not sure how that helps the cause you are trying to espouse- fighting hate-crimes and making sure the GLLU remains a strong entity in the District within the MPD.. I have worked for years with many members of the LGBT activist community including GLOV and support both issues you are talking about.- So if you would like to meet and suggest new strategies that the activist community hasn’t tried on how to accomplish what you want I am sure many people would be happy to meet and work with you on them, myself included. We are lucky in DC to have an amazingly strong LGBT community with strong advocates to speak out and fight to keep the LGBT community strong, give us a strong voice, and try to keep us safe. It is an ongoing never ending battle. As we all know hate is not a trait people are born with it is taught. Just having legal rights doesn’t mean that the culture of hate is ended whether it is towards the African American community, LGBT community or other minorities. Keeping vigilant is always important and making sure that government represents us in the way we want to be represented is always important. Again the LGBT community is lucky to have so many who continue to be vigilant and always welcomes new activists to the fold..

          • OMG, Peter! This isn’t about you, me or any other LGBT activist. Do you think folks can’t see you are trying to change the subject?

            Address the real issues that matter right now. Why don’t you just admit that the mayor and chief of police are out to destroy GLLU and are covering up news and information of anti-LGBT hate crimes?

          • And Brian no shade it isn’t about you neither. We all knowing you didn’t support Bowser in the first place!

          • The campaign is long over, BearCub. But you and Peter are still trying to change the subject when it comes to Mayor Bowser’s ignoring anti-LGBT hate crimes and GLLU. Why is that?

            I think most folks understand that going on 7 months after Bowser was sworn in, this is now about how a DC mayor and her police chief actually *GOVERN* our police department so as to keep LGBT people safe from hate crimes and other LGBTQ-related violence.

            So, tell us, please, when was the last time Mayor Bowser or Chief Lanier even publicly condemned anti-LGBT hate crimes?

            When was the last time our mayor or our chief publicly supported a robust GLLU within our police department?

            Do tell. Was that anytime in the last 7 months? Just how long has it been?

            Can you reprint a news clip of those comments by the mayor and/or police chief? Or a video link? I’ll bet 700 members of DC’s east side LGBT listservs would love to see them.

            And how come Mayor Nutter and Police Commish Ramsey in Philadelphia can forthrightly shine a bright light on their city’s anti-LGBT hate crimes– openly and transparently? Yet DC’s mayor and police chief hide and coverup DC’s hate crimes and its award-winning GLLU?

          • Why do you think they’re hiding it? Do you really think they’re homophobes SERIOUSLY?

          • BearCub, you guys can’t answer my questions, nor address the basic issues for the embarrassing truth of the matter…

            Bowser and Lanier want to pretend– for political reasons– that anti-LGBT hate crimes don’t exist in DC. So they’re covering up news of these crimes– and public information about GLLU has been largely gagged by Bowser’s police chief.

            Who are GLLU’s core officers? Does anyone know them anymore? Have they been replaced by Cathy Lanier’s hand-picked secret police?

            Yes. Bowser’s police department has become institutionally biased against DC’s LGBT residents, DC’s LGBT visitors and other LGBT stakeholders.

            Also, [BearCub], you’re confusing *INSTITUTIONAL* bias with *PERSONAL* bias (homophobia/ transphobia, per your question).

            Just as police departments can be institutionally biased against African American victims of crime, PDs can be institutionally biased against LGBTQ victims of crimes, too– or any other minority group historically discriminated against, for that matter.

            That’s why MPD’s Special Liaison Division and GLLU was formed under Chief Ramsey.

            By contrast, just read news stories from the Blade– over 8 years plus, now. Chief Lanier has repeatedly demonstrated her barely disguised contempt for GLLU. She has made GLLU’s current iteration an empty shell, not allowed to provide basic public liaison policing services.

            Given THIS investigative reporting by the Blade, USDOJ should investigate MPD –AND– DC’s U.S. Attorney’s Office to find out why anti-LGBT hate crimes are not being fairly investigated, fairly reported to the public and fairly prosecuted in DC.

          • Another question USDOJ might want to look at… could this be an institutional bias case of the tail wagging the dog?

            DC’s U.S. Attorney’s Office has undergone changes at the top in the past year. Could it be that MPD has taken advantage and quietly/tacitly encouraged USAO-DC *NOT* to prosecute anti-LGBT hate crimes?

  • I wonder if they don’t seek an enhancement simply because they think it decreases the chances of a conviction? What I mean is, it’s VERY difficult to prove state of mind, compared to proving the actual actions which were carried out.

    • Yeah. That’s definitely true to some extent. Each case stands (or falls) on its own facts and circumstances. But obviously a case as clear and egregious as this one reported by the Blade, suggests USAO has drifted into what appears to be some level of institutional bias against all LGBT hate crimes– if only for convenience sake.

      The lack of reporting transparency, and even truthfulness to the public– which is really a MPD function– strongly suggests a robust political motive for the anti-LGBT bias at MPD, however. And that’s a rung or two higher on the criminal justice corruption scale. IMO, of course.

      It’s arguable to be sure. But we ought to be having that conversation.

  • I think they might be able to make an EXISTING appellation work just fine: “premeditated”. If there’s a REASON for the crime, that’s all you need to show that there was rationalization in play, rather then knee-jerk rage.

    • Well, I still don’t believe it matters either way. Whether it’s premeditated or random rage, it is still experienced as a horrible attack by the victim, and the court should be concerned with the welfare and dignity of the victim, not that of the perpetrator.

      Judge Williams clearly has more sympathy for violent criminals than the victim of violence – especially when the latter are gay men. She is one nasty piece of work and I hope she is herself the victim of a very violent attack one day.

      • The things I’ve said weren’t about dignity, they were about the considerations that actions are rights-violating, but thoughts never are. Thoughtcrime is an abomination, and I’d rather like to prevent a repeat of the original ‘hate-crime’ debacle, in which declaring an inter-racial slaying as a hate crime redirected most african-american killings onto other african americans, making them even more victimized, as per the FBI statistical tracking for the years in question.

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