Trans Day of Remembrance
Friday, Nov. 20
Metropolitan Community Church
474 Ridge St., N.W.
So far in 2015, 21 transgender people have been killed in violent attacks, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.
In recognition of the Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20, the Blade’s reporting staff reached out to police and public officials involved in investigating and prosecuting those cases. Updates on each case follow.
(They were reported by Lou Chibbaro Jr., Joey DiGuglielmo, Chris Johnson, Michael K. Lavers, Mariah Cooper and Michael Key.)
Zella Ziona, 21
Zella Ziona, 21, was shot multiple times in the head and body in an alley behind a shopping center in Gaithersburg, Md., in the early evening of Oct. 15, and was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital at 8:12 p.m. that same day, according to a police report.
The following day police charged Rico Hector LeBlond, 20, with first-degree murder in connection with Ziona’s death. He has been held without bond since the time of his arrest on Oct. 16.
On Nov. 12 a Montgomery County Grand Jury indicted LeBlond on a murder charge, saying he “did feloniously and willfully and deliberately and with premeditation kill and murder” Ziona. The indictment doesn’t classify the murder as a hate crime.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy, the lead prosecutor in the case, told the Washington Blade that his office and police investigators looked carefully into whether to list the incident as a hate crime, and initially could not find sufficient evidence to do so.
McCarthy said investigators discovered that Ziona and LeBlond had known each other and had been friends since the two were in middle school. He said the police investigation also found that the two appeared to have been in a romantic relationship sometime after Ziona began transitioning.
The police charging document filed in court says witnesses told police that Ziona and LeBlond had been having a “simmering dispute” a short time before the murder. The dispute started, the document says, when Ziona approached LeBlond and a group of his male friends at another shopping center while “acting flamboyantly towards LeBlond and greatly embarrassed him in front of his peers.”
The charging document says that upon learning that Ziona was at the Montgomery Village Crossing shopping center on Oct. 15, LeBlond, with the help of other young men with him, lured Ziona to the alley behind the shopping center. Witnesses told police that after initially firing a shot that hit Ziona, LeBlond allegedly “walked over to her, stood over her, and fired more rounds into her body.”
Much of the incident, except for the shooting, was captured on surveillance video from the shopping center, the charging document says. It says Ziona suffered gunshot wounds to the head and groin area.
A trial date for LeBlond had not been scheduled as of Nov. 16. —LC
Papi Edwards, 20
Papi Edwards, 20, whose friends have said identified as a transgender woman, was shot to death at a Louisville, Ky., hotel on Jan. 9, by a suspect who reportedly met her through an online site, according to one of her friends.
The friend, whose videotaped interview with police became part of the public court records, said she and two other transgender friends who were with Edwards at the Fern Valley Hotel at the time of the shooting, believe suspect Henry Gleaves, 20, shot Edwards because she was transgender.
Multiple news media outlets have reported that the friend, who has asked to be identified only by the name Tiffany, said that Gleaves became angry shortly after arriving at the hotel room where Edwards and the three other trans women were staying, when Edwards informed him that she was transgender.
Buzzfeed News, which was one of the first news outlets to view the police videotaped interview of Tiffany, reported that Tiffany said Edwards tried to avoid potentially surprising Gleaves by identifying herself as a trans person.
“The dude said, ‘What the fuck?’ and he left,” Buzzfeed quoted Tiffany as saying.
A police charging document filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court in Louisville says witnesses told police that Edwards and the three others with her walked out of the hotel into a parking lot where they planned to leave to buy cigarettes. But Edwards walked back into the hotel to get something she forgot to bring with her, and minutes later a suspect later identified as Gleaves fatally shot her, police have said.
“Pepi got shot because she was a transgender female,” Buzzfeed quoted Tiffany as saying. “That is exactly why she was killed – because of gender identity.”
But shortly after Gleaves’ arrest three days later on a charge of murder, a Louisville police spokesperson said police considered claims about Edwards’ gender identity to be irrelevant to the case, and that police would continue to identify Edwards as a male using her birth name Sherman Edwards, which is listed on all police and court records.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney John Balenovich, the lead prosecutor in the case, told the Washington Blade this week that Edwards clearly presented herself as a female and that his office would be bringing up issues related to her gender identity at Gleaves’ trail, which is scheduled to begin April 5, 2016.
Balenovich said he presented the case before a grand jury in January and an indictment on murder was quickly obtained. He said that in July, after his office obtained additional information that Gleaves made several phone calls from jail asking friends to destroy evidence, including text messages on Gleaves’ cell phone, he obtained a second indictment against Gleaves on a charge of evidence tampering.
He said he could neither confirm nor deny media reports that Edwards had arranged to meet Gleaves at the hotel to engage in sex for money, saying all relevant evidence surrounding the case would be presented at trial.
Chris Hartman, director of the Louisville-based LGBT advocacy group Fairness Campaign, said the group expressed strong concern to Louisville police about the initial statement by the police spokesperson that Edwards’ gender identity was not relevant to the case. —LC
Ty Underwood, 24
Ty Underwood, 24, a transgender woman, was found shot to death inside a red Toyota Camry she had been driving shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 26 in a residential neighborhood in Tyler, Texas, according to information released by Tyler police.
Police said they were called to the scene by nearby residents, some of whom saw the car had crashed near a utility pole and others reported hearing gunshots. Police said Underwood had been shot several times, which caused her to lose control of the vehicle. She was declared dead at the scene.
Less than a month later police announced they had arrested a football player at Texas College named Carlton Ray Champion Jr., 21, in connection with Underwood’s murder. A police arrest affidavit filed in court says police learned through their investigation that Underwood and Champion had been dating for several weeks prior to the murder and the two were believed to have met through a mobile app called “Kik.”
The affidavit says one of the detectives interviewed Champion’s father, who reportedly said his son initially thought Underwood was a female and was surprised and upset when he learned she was transgender.
But Tyler police spokesperson Officer Don Martin told news media outlets that police did not believe the murder was a hate crime after learning through their investigation that Champion reportedly knew that Underwood was transgender while continuing to see her.
The arrest affidavit states that police obtained the content of text messages and possible online communication between Underwood and Champion after confiscating Champion’s tablet computer.
“After reading the text between Champion Jr. and Underwood, it was clear that the two have had sexual relations with each other,” a detective stated in the affidavit.
The affidavit says the shooting took place shortly after Underwood sent Champion a message saying she no longer wanted to see him, suggesting that he was seeing someone else and felt he was treating her badly. He replied, according to the affidavit that “this ain’t done” and reportedly persuaded Underwood to meet up with him.
Police have said ballistics evidence indicates that shots may have been fired from inside the car as well as from the outside.
Champion has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder charge filed against him. A trial date had not been set as of this week. —LC
Yazmin Vash Payne, 33
Los Angeles police reported that city firefighters found transgender woman Yazmin Vash Payne, 33, stabbed multiple times in the bedroom of her apartment in the city’s Van Nuys neighborhood after the room had been set on fire about 5 a.m. on Jan. 31.
Paramedics pronounced Payne dead at the scene after firefighters quickly extinguished the fire.
The following day a man police identified as Payne’s boyfriend, Ezekiel Dear, 25, turned himself in at a local police station while accompanied by a pastor and reportedly admitted to having stabbed Payne.
Police have charged Dear with felony murder and the commission of arson at an inhabited structure, according to charging documents filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court. He has been held on $1 million bail since the time of his arrest on Feb. 1. Court records show a trial date has yet to be scheduled.
KABC-TV News reported that neighbors said Payne and Dear had moved into the apartment a short time before the stabbing and that Payne was open about being transgender.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, said she was not at liberty to disclose whether investigators have established a motive for the murder. The case has not been listed as a hate crime. —LC
Taja Gabrielle De Jesus, 33
San Francisco police reported that Taja Gabrielle DeJesus, a 36-year-old transgender woman, was found stabbed to death in a stairwell in the city’s Bayview District about 9 a.m. on Feb. 1.
A San Francisco police spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a Blade request for further information on the status of the case. But, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, police on Feb. 6 said they identified a suspect in the case but declined to provide further details other than to say they did not believe the murder was a hate crime.
Around that same time, the San Francisco Weekly reported that police sources identified the suspect as James Hayes, 49, who was found dead in an apparent suicide. San Francisco Weekly reported that police discovered him hanging by his neck from a fence behind a warehouse a half-mile from where DeJesus’s body was found.
Authorities have yet to disclose whether they have learned of a motive for the murder and what, if any, relationship DeJesus may have had with Hayes.
Pamela DeJesus, the victim’s mother, told the San Francisco Chronicle that her daughter was from San Jose and moved to San Francisco because it would provide a more supportive environment for transgender people. Pamela DeJesus said Taja Gabrielle was active in her Bayview church and volunteered for a local food pantry.
“Taja was beautiful inside and out,” the mother said. “She was the rock for our family.” —LC
Elisha Walker, 20
In August, it was reported that the remains of a Rowan County, N.C., woman were found in a “crude” grave in a wooded area. Elisha Walker had been reported missing in November 2014. Local media outlets said Walker was “reported to live an alternative lifestyle of a non-heterosexual male.”
Angel Dejesus Arias, 23, was charged with murder and felony larceny of a motor vehicle following the discovery. Arias was already in custody on an unrelated drug charge and is being held without bond, according to WXII12, a regional news outlet. Arias is a member of the Latin Kings street gang, the article said.
Lt. Chad Moose of the Rowan County, N.C., Sheriff’s Office said it may take about two years for the trial to start.
“We’ll have a trial date but nothing is set up yet,” Moose told the Blade last week. “He’s being held without bond.”
Moose said some investigative work continues.
“We’re still doing some follow-up stuff, but nothing major,” he said. “Phone records and stuff like that.”
The case has not been classified as a hate crime. —JD
Tamara Dominguez, 36
Kansas City, Mo.
Tamara Dominguez was hit by a truck then run over several times on Aug. 15 in Kansas City, Mo., according to police.
Her family was told by police her car was found near Independence Avenue, according to KCTV News. They told reporters they don’t know why she was there or whom she may have been with. Witnesses reported seeing an argument but details are scant, the article said.
The case has not been classified as a hate crime.
Sgt. K. Thompson of the Kansas City Police told the Blade there are no updates.
“Presently we have not been advised of any updates in this case nor have we been advised of any arrests,” she said. “We’re still urging the community to reach out to our hotline on this.” —JD
Penny Proud, 21
Penny Proud was fatally shot multiple times about 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 10 near the intersection of Ursulines Avenue and North Claiborne Avenue in Treme, a New Orleans neighborhood.
The transgender woman was pronounced dead at the scene according to the New Orleans Police Department.
The investigation remains ongoing nine months later, police told the Washington Blade.
“It’s still open but we haven’t gotten anything lately, we haven’t gotten any leads,” said Officer Frank Robertson, an LGBT liaison officer of the department. “It all depends on when we get leads. Some cases can go on for years. I try to get all the LGBT stuff and this case is still open.”
The case has not been classified as a hate crime. —JD
Kandis Capri, 35
Kandis Capri, a black transgender woman, was shot and killed at an apartment complex near 43rd and Thomas Road in Phoenix on Aug. 11, according to ABC 15, a regional affiliate.
Last month, police released video taken at a nearby convenience store that shows Capri walking with the “investigative lead” before the shooting. Capri was found in the parking lot of the La Reserve Apartments with multiple gunshot wounds. She was transported to the hospital and pronounced dead. The suspect was seen leaving the area on foot, police told ABC 15.
No mention was made in local media reports of the case being designated as a hate crime. Washington Blade calls to Phoenix Police were not returned. —JD
Lamia Beard, 30
The Norfolk Police Department shortly before 4 a.m. on Jan. 17 received a 911 call that said Lamia Beard had been shot on East 25th Street in the city’s Park Place neighborhood. She died from her injuries several hours later at a local hospital.
Officer Daniel Hudson of the Norfolk Police Department told the Washington Blade earlier this month that no arrests have been made in Beard’s case. He asked anybody with information to call 1-888-LOCKUUP.
Hudson said there is currently “no concrete evidence to classify” Beard’s murder as a hate crime.
Virginia’s hate crimes law does not include gender identity. —ML
Jessica Hernandez, 17
Two Denver police officers on Jan. 26 shot Jessica Hernandez to death as she drove a stolen car through an alley.
The National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change Conference took place in Denver less than two weeks after Hernandez’s death. Mayor Michael Hancock cancelled his speech to the gathering after LGBT rights advocates stormed the stage to protest the shooting.
District Attorney Mitchell Morrissey in June declined to file charges against the two officers who shot Hernandez.
“The facts show this was a defensive shooting by both officers,” wrote Morrissey in a letter to Denver Police Chief Robert White. “That is, their decisions to shoot Ms. Hernandez were justifiable in light of the manner in which she drove the car in close and dangerous proximity to them.”
Hernandez’s family had previously called for a federal investigation into the shooting. —ML
Kristina Gomez Reinwald, 46
Kristina Gomez Reinwald was found stabbed to death on Feb. 15 in the house on S.W. 58th Court that she shared with her stepfather and brother.
Gomez — who was also known as Kristina Grant Infinity — was a well-known performer in Miami Beach.
The Miami-Dade Police Department originally ruled Gomez’s death as a suicide, but media reports indicate it was a homicide.
The Miami-Dade Police Department did not return the Washington Blade’s repeated requests for comment on the status of the investigation into Gomez’s death. Anyone with information can call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS.
Florida’s hate crimes law does not include gender identity. —ML
Londyn Chanel, 21
Londyn Chanel was stabbed to death outside an abandoned house in North Philadelphia on May 18.
Police say that Raheam Felton — who lived in the abandoned house with Chanel and two other trans women — stabbed her to death during what they described as a domestic dispute.
Felton has been charged with murder and possession of an instrument of crime in connection with Chanel’s death. Kevin Bethel of the Philadelphia Police Department told the Philadelphia Gay News that Felton did not kill Chanel because of her gender identity.
A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department told the Blade last week that the case is “going through the legal system.” —ML
Mercedes Williamson, 17
George County, Miss.
Mississippi prosecutors say a self-professed gang member killed Mercedes Williamson and dumped her body behind his father’s home.
Authorities found Williamson’s partially decomposed body near Lucedale, Miss., on June 2. A spokesperson with the George County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to the Washington Blade that Josh Brandon Vallum has been indicted on murder charges in the case.
“The case has been turned over to the district attorney’s office in George County,” said the spokesperson.
Williamson lived in Theodore, Ala., which is roughly 50 miles southeast of where her body was found.
Mississippi’s hate crimes law does not include gender identity. —ML
Shade Schuler, 22
Shade Schuler, 22, was found murdered on July 29 in a field near the medical district in Dallas. Not much is known about the offense. The Dallas Police Department had no updates and the case remains open. Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Chaney with the Dallas Police Department Homicide Unit at 214-671-3650. —CJ
Amber Monroe, 20
Amber Monroe, 20, was found on Aug. 8 shot to death in Detroit. According to a local media report, she was shot while coming out of a vehicle and pronounced dead at the hospital. No additional information was known at the time of her death. The Detroit Police Department didn’t respond to Blade inquiries about the status of the case. —CJ
Ashton O’Hara, 25
Ashton O’Hara, 25, was found murdered on July 14 in a field in Detroit. According to a local media report, no information was known about the motive for O’Hara’s murder. The Detroit Police Department didn’t respond to Blade inquiries about the status of the case. —CJ
India Clark, 25
India Clark was found dead from a gunshot wound to her head on July 21 in a park area of the University Area Community Center in Tampa, Fla. Days later on July 29, detectives arrested Keith Lamayne Gaillard for the killing and charged him with first-degree murder. According to police, the two had a “personal relationship.” —CJ
K.C. Haggard, 66
K.C. Haggard, 66, was stabbed to death in the street in Fresno, Calif., on July 23. The driver of an SUV summoned K.C. Haggard over before fatally stabbing her in the neck from his car. Haggard remained on the street for 20 minutes before a passerby called paramedics. After being rushed to the Community Regional Medical Center, she was pronounced dead. Local transgender activists are calling for this homicide to be investigated as a hate crime. The case remains open. Police are asking individuals with information to call Lt. Burke Farrah at 559-621-2414. —CJ
Jasmine Collins, 32
Kansas City, Mo.
Jasmine Collins, 32, was stabbed to death outside her apartment complex in Kansas City, Mo., on June 23.
As reported by the Guardian, court documents state that Collins, who was identified as male in an initial homicide incident report, went to Tia Townsel, an acquaintance from her complex, for a haircut. They started arguing over a pair of shoes and a physical altercation began in the apartment and continued into the parking lot. Collins hit Townsel over the head with a vodka bottle. Then Townsel retrieved a knife from her apartment and proceeded to stab Collins, according to court documents.
Townsel was charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action. The detective on the case did not respond to Blade inquiries this week. —MC
Keyshia Blige, 33
Keyshia Blige, 33, was shot while driving a car with a friend in the passenger seat, in Aurora, Ill., on March 7.
Aurora Police told media outlets that they did not believe the murder was a hate crime but they were working on other theories. So far, no suspects have been arrested. Police told the Blade this week that there are no updates on the case.
Initial reports reported Blige’s gender as male. News of Blige’s murder became more known in August, after more reports revealed Blige was a transgender woman.
For tips on this case, call 630-892-1000. —MC