December 18, 2015 at 6:05 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Trans woman pleads guilty in D.C. armed standoff
Jessica Hawkins, Sophia Dalke, gay news, Washington Blade

Sophia Dalke pleaded guilty to lesser charges related to a shooting incident that snarled D.C. rush hour traffic last month. (Photo courtesy Facebook)

A 32-year-old transgender woman arrested on Nov. 16 after repeatedly firing a gun on the roof of a downtown office building that led to a 10-hour standoff with D.C. police pleaded guilty on Friday to separate charges of carrying a pistol without a license and the unlawful discharge of a firearm.

Hyattsville, Md., resident Sophia Dalke entered her guilty plea at a D.C. Superior Court hearing in response to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In exchange for the guilty plea prosecutors dismissed a more serious charge of assault with a dangerous weapon and agreed to recommend a sentence at the lower range of court sentencing guidelines.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office chose not to prosecute Dalke on a separate charge filed by police of assault on a police officer.

At the time of her arrest, police reported that Dalke stated she initially intended to commit suicide by jumping off the building and was suffering from a mental health crisis.

The D.C. police department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit and its transgender supervisor, Sgt. Jessica Hawkins, have been credited with playing a key role in persuading Dalke to peacefully surrender.

Judge Anita Josey-Herring, who presided over the Friday, Dec. 18 hearing, scheduled a sentencing hearing for Dalke on Feb. 26. Dalke has been held without bond since the time of her arrest.

At the request of Dalke’s attorneys, Josey-Herring ordered that Dalke be transferred to D.C.’s St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for psychiatric evaluation to help the defense develop an appropriate sentencing recommendation. At the request of Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Earnest, the lead prosecutor in the case, the judge ordered that Dalke remain incarcerated if the evaluation is completed before the sentencing hearing in February.

“We believe she is a danger to the community and a danger to herself,” Earnest said.

Under D.C. law, a charge of carrying a pistol without a license carries a possible maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The maximum penalty for unlawful discharge of a firearm is one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.

Court records show that GLLU Supervisor Hawkins was the first police officer on the scene at the upscale office building at 1999 K St., N.W., which Dalke entered sometime before 10:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 15.

According to a police arrest affidavit filed in court, a friend of Dalke called Hawkins at that time to report that Dalke entered the building and was threatening to commit suicide.

“Sgt. Hawkins was familiar with the defendant and called her to check on her,” the affidavit says. “The defendant told Sgt. Hawkins that she wanted to end her life by jumping off a building, that she had a .45 caliber handgun in her possession, and that she was going to shoot out the windows of nearby office buildings,” the affidavit says.

Dalke’s LinkedIn page says she worked as an IT support specialist for an agricultural investment company called Farmer Mac, which is located in the K Street building.

The affidavit says Hawkins and other officers arriving on the scene reported that Dalke began firing shots from the roof of the building, prompting the officers to take cover. Police officials declared an emergency and listed the development as a “barricade incident.” They immediately closed surrounding streets to cars and pedestrians.

As the incident dragged on through the night and the morning commuter rush hour, a massive traffic jam developed, preventing hundreds of workers from getting to their downtown offices until shortly after Dalke surrendered about 10:30 a.m.

The police affidavit says that when police investigators went to the roof deck where Dalke had holed up, after she surrendered, they found the hand gun she was carrying along with shell casings, a live round of ammunition and a loaded magazine. It says they discovered shattered windows on the 8th and 11th floors of an adjacent office building and determined they were shattered by gunfire from Dalke.

At Friday’s court hearing, prosecutor Earnest said Dalke told police after her arrest that she had not intended to harm anyone other than herself.

In a separate document submitted to the court on Dec. 6, Earnest said a witness who overheard some of Sgt. Hawkins’ phone conversation with Dalke reported Dalke indicated she planned to shoot out at least one office building window and shoot into the air “to get attention.”

“The defendant stated her plan was to jump off the roof of the building or force the officers to shoot her,” Earnest said in her court filing. “The defendant stated that she had no intention of firing any shots at any officers or anyone else.”

Margarita O’Donnell, one of three attorneys representing Dalke from the D.C. Public Defenders Service, told Judge Josey-Herring at Friday’s hearing that Dalke was denied medication she had been taking while being held in the D.C. jail. O’Donnell said at one point Dalke was placed in a cell with just a few sheets of toilet paper, suggesting that Dalke may have faced unsanitary conditions.

O’Donnell also suggested that Dalke may not have been placed in an appropriate section of the jail suitable for her status as a transgender woman. But the attorney didn’t elaborate on the conditions Dalke encountered at the jail.

When asked by the Washington Blade after the hearing for further details of the jail conditions Dalke faced, O’Donnell declined to comment, referring a reporter to the Public Defender Service’s general counsel, Julia Leighton. Leighton didn’t immediately respond to a call from the Blade.

Sylvia Lane, a spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Corrections, which oversees the D.C. Jail, said she was looking into Dalke’s treatment at the jail in response to a Blade inquiry and would get back with further information.

Veteran transgender activist Earline Budd has expressed concern in the past that transgender inmates often face harassment and abuse at the D.C. jail but DOC officials reportedly had taken steps to address those issues.

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

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