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D.C. double murder doesn’t appear to be hate crime

Prosecutors say dispute over money triggered shooting deaths

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shooting deaths, gay news, Washington Blade
shooting deaths, gay news, Washington Blade, double murder

Prosecutors say dispute over money triggered shooting deaths.

A D.C. police homicide detective testified at a Superior Court hearing on Tuesday that an argument over money appears to be what prompted defendant David Bright, 29, to allegedly shoot two gay men to death on Feb. 18 inside a group house at 509 58th St., N.E. where the three lived.

Det. Marvin Washington testified that an eyewitness to the incident who also lived in the house told police that Bright shot Clifton David Francis, 51, and David Aumon Watkins Jr., 45, multiple times while in a rage and acting as if he were “crazy.”

Police and prosecutors have not publicly identified the two victims as gay. But law enforcement sources familiar with the case have told the Washington Blade the two were gay and that Sgt. Jessica Hawkins, supervisor of the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit, and Officer Zunnobia Hakir, a member of the LGBT unit, were called to the scene on the day of the murders.

“This case remains under investigation,” said William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case. “However, based on the charging documents and court testimony, you can state that there are no allegations that this is a hate crime,” said Miller, who noted that the incident “is believed to involve a dispute over money.”

At the time of his arrest, police charged Bright with first-degree murder while armed.

At the preliminary hearing on Tuesday, Det. Washington appeared to confirm that at least one of the two victims was gay. In response to a question by defense attorney Dominique Winters, he said that the eyewitness to the murders had been in a “romantic relationship” with one of the two victims.

Washington answered the question after Judge Jose Lopez overruled an objection by Assistant U.S. Attorney Magdalena Acevedo, the lead prosecutor in the case, who said the line of questioning was not germane to the case.

Although Washington was careful not to disclose the witness’s gender, referring to the person as Witness 1 or “it,” both Winters and Lopez at various times referred to the witness as “he” or “him.” A law enforcement source also confirmed that Witness 1 is a man.

In her arguments urging Lopez to rule that there was insufficient evidence to find probable cause that the case should proceed to a full trial, Winters suggested that Witness 1 was “biased” against her client and biased toward the decedents because of his romantic relationship with one of the decedents.

Prosecutor Acevedo took strong exception to the argument that Witness 1 was biased. She pointed to Washington’s testimony that Witness 1 provided police with a detailed account of how he saw Bright point his handgun and shoot Francis in the living room of the house.

A police arrest affidavit says Witness 1 told police that while shooting Francis, Bright yelled, “This will teach you.” The affidavit says Witness 1 told police he heard the other victim, who was later identified as David Watkins, yelling, “Day-Day, what are you doing? You’re crazy.”

The witness and others who know Bright said Bright went by the nickname Day-Day.

According to the arrest affidavit, Witness 1 recounted that he then heard several more gunshots that he assumed were fired at Watkins.

Police have said Francis, who suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the body and head, was pronounced dead at the scene. Watkins, who suffered from at least one gunshot wound to the body, was taken to Prince George’s Hospital, where he later died, the affidavit says.

Washington also testified that police found 22 shell casings at the house where the incident occurred and later matched them to a handgun that they recovered from Bright at the time of his arrest.

In addition, in response to questioning by Acevedo, Washington testified that another witness who has family ties with Bright told police that Bright telephoned the witness, listed as Witness 2, and confessed to having shot and killed two men at the 58th Street address.

Based on this and other information provided by police, Lopez ruled that probable cause exists that Bright committed the murders and the case should advance to trial. He denied a request by Winters that Bright be released to a halfway house, saying evidence presented by police and prosecutors indicates that Bright would be a danger to the community. He then scheduled a felony status hearing for June 10.

Prior to Washington’s testimony, Acevedo and Winters told Lopez that Bright had rejected a plea bargain offer from prosecutors. The two did not provide details of the offer, but Acevedo said it involved requiring that Bright accept a sentence of at least 20 years in jail.

At the start of the April 5 hearing, Bright was escorted into the courtroom with what appeared to be white bandages placed over the top of his head. Neither his attorney nor prosecutor Acevedo disclosed what happened to cause the apparent injury.

Shortly after entering the courtroom at the start of the hearing guards escorted Bright out of the courtroom before he returned about five minutes later. Minutes after that he began shouting, “People are trying to kill me. People don’t know what happened.”

Guards responded by hastily escorting Bright back out of the courtroom. About 10 minutes later, after the proceeding was put on hold, Bright was escorted back into the courtroom.

“I apologize, your honor,” Bright said. “That’s OK,” Judge Lopez responded.

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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee tables anti-transgender student athlete bill

Virginia Beach Republican introduced SB 766

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Thursday tabled a bill that would have banned transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on earlier this month, would have required “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.’”

“SB 766 (trans sports ban) was passed by indefinitely (it died!) after a long line of speakers testified against it, affirming trans students’ rights to participate in sports just like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia after the vote. “Trans students belong in sports. Period.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Democrats still control the Senate by a 21-19 margin.

A bill that would have eliminated the requirement that school districts implement the Virginia Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines died in a Senate subcommittee on Thursday. The Senate General Laws and Technology on Thursday also tabled a religious freedom measure that would have undermined Virginia’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

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Maryland

Hyattsville mayor dies by suicide

Kevin Ward and husband adopted son in D.C. in 2012

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Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward (Photo courtesy of the city of Hyattsville)

The city of Hyattsville released a statement on Wednesday afternoon announcing that their city’s openly gay Mayor Kevin Ward had died one day earlier by an apparent suicide.

“The city of Hyattsville reports with great sadness that our beloved Mayor Kevin Ward passed away yesterday, Jan. 25, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the statement says.

“Mayor Ward was a valued and trusted leader and a fierce advocate for all the people of Hyattsville,” the statement continues. “We are heartbroken at this loss and extend our deepest sympathy to the mayor’s family,” it says.

“No further information is available at this time,” the statement adds. “Details about services and remembrances will be shared when they are available.”

The Washington Post reported that U.S. Park Police disclosed that Ward was found deceased in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Va., with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Ward, 44, became acting mayor of Hyattsville on Jan. 1, 2021, following the resignation of former Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. He was next in line to become mayor under the city’s political system in his then-position as president of the Hyattsville City Council.

He won election to complete the remainder of Hollingsworth’s term through 2023 in a May 11, 2021, special election, receiving 57.8 percent of the vote in a three candidate race, according to the Hyattsville election board. His closest opponent, Joseph Solomon, received 31.7 percent of the vote.

Nearby fellow gay mayors — Patrick Wojahn of College Park and Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset — said they got to know Ward through Maryland political circles and thought very highly of him.

“He was insightful, smart and dedicated,” Wojahn said. “He always seemed very confident and together as a person. And he had a great sense of humor.”

Slavin said he shared that remembrance of Ward, adding that he found Ward to be a “very nice person” dedicated to the people he served both as mayor and during his two terms on the Hyattsville City Council.

“There was noting in his public life that would have predicted this,” said Slavin in referring to Ward’s sudden passing.

The Washington Blade first reported on Ward in 2012 in a feature story on Ward and his then-domestic partner Chad Copeland when the two attended a ceremony at the D.C. Superior Court to complete the process of adopting their then-5-year-old son Norman. Ward and Copeland were among several gay couples who had their adoption papers signed by a judge at the ceremony.

On the website for his mayoral election campaign last year Ward said he and his family made Hyattsville their home in 2014 after he and his husband adopted their two sons.

“I am a pretty straightforward person,” he said in message to voters on his campaign website. “I believe in listening more than talking. But when I talk, I am not one to mince words or tell people what they want to hear,” he said. “I believe in doing the work. I believe that if I can help someone, then I can change her or his life,” he continued.

“This is why I dedicated my career to providing the best technology to education and to human services, to help as many people as I can,” he said.  

Ward was referring to his career in the field of educational and human services technology.

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District of Columbia

ANC supports license for Capitol Hill LGBTQ bar

Lesbian owners back ‘settlement agreement’ with restrictions on hours

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AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

The Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B voted unanimously on Tuesday night to support a liquor license for the LGBTQ-owned As You Are Bar, which plans to open in a two-story building at 500 8th St., S.E. in a commercial section of Capitol Hill known as Barracks Row.

The ANC’s decision to support the license took place at a virtual meeting attended by nearby residents and supporters of the bar after its owners, lesbian activists Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, agreed to the terms of an ANC settlement agreement that calls for restrictions in the hours the bar can offer dancing, entertainment, and music from a DJ.

The agreement means the ANC will not file a protest against the license before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, a development that would have delayed a decision on the license by the ABC Board by as much as seven months. A protest by the ANC could have cost the bar thousands of dollars in legal fees to contest the protest by providing legal arguments seeking the approval of the license.

The ABC Board makes the final decision on whether to approve all liquor licenses in the city.

McDaniel and Pike have said they plan to operate an upstairs dance bar during evening hours and a café on the first floor during the day as well as in the evenings that will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture.”

The two, who are business and life partners, say As You Are Bar will welcome people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities as well as drinkers and non-drinkers as customers.

They have also told the ANC and nearby residents they have taken steps to soundproof the building, which they are renting, to ensure their plans to operate a dance bar with music from a DJ on the second floor will not disturb nearby residents.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, which was posted on the ANC’s website prior to the start of the meeting, the bar’s operating hours will be from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Under D.C. law, bars are allowed to remain open for the sale of alcoholic beverages until 2 a.m. during weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Settlement Agreement further calls for As You Are Bar to restrict the hours of consumption of alcohol from 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It calls for allowing live entertainment and dancing (indoors only) from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 12 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

However, the agreement says DJ and amplified music will not be permitted after 8 p.m. on weekdays.

 McDaniel told the Blade that at the request of As You Are Bar’s attorney Richard Bianco, the ANC agreed to modify that restriction at the Tuesday night meeting to allow the bar to play “conversational” background music after 8 p.m. until closing time on weekdays.

 Among other things, the agreement requires the bar comply with a noise mitigation provision to “ensure that sound, noise, and vibrations are not audible or felt beyond the curb or any other premises at any time.” It also calls on the bar to provide an “appropriate number of staff” to monitor patrons as they leave the bar through the 8th Street entrance to “prevent loud voices and littering.”

Under rules established by the ABC Board and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration or ABRA, if a settlement agreement is reached between an applicant for a liquor license and the ANC, a protest against the license by groups of five or more citizens is not allowed. Protests could still be filed by community-based civic groups and residents of an “abutting” house or residential facility.

In the case of As You Are Bar, no citizens group has emerged to oppose the license. There is just one abutting townhouse on E Street whose owner has expressed general support for the settlement agreement, according to McDaniel. But the resident has indicated she will not rule out a possible protest until Feb. 7, which is the deadline for filing a protest under ABRA’s rules.

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