A 25-year-old D.C. transgender woman was being kept alive Wednesday on a breathing machine at Prince George’s Hospital Center after she was found unconscious and suffering from a gunshot wound in the neck about 6 a.m. on July 4 in the 200 block of Division Avenue, N.E., according to a D.C. police report and transgender activist Earline Budd.
Budd said police sources informed her that Donita Dodds was discovered lying on the ground bleeding by a pedestrian who immediately called police.
“Complainant 1 was found suffering from an apparent gunshot wound to the neck,” the police report says. “At the time of this report there is no suspect information and or motive,” says the report, which lists the incident as an assault with the intent to kill.
Budd said she was informed by police that no witnesses to the shooting have been found.
Police spokesperson Sean Hickman told the Washington Blade that detectives from the Homicide Branch were investigating the case as part of the department’s normal practice when the victim of a violent crime suffers a life-threatening injury.
Erika Murray, a spokesperson for Prince George’s Hospital Center, said federal privacy rules prevent her from disclosing information about Dodds’ medical status other than that she is in “critically stable condition.”
Murray would neither confirm nor deny information from sources familiar with the case that Dodds was being kept alive by a breathing machine and was not expected to survive the gunshot wound.
Although she was alerted to the incident unofficially by police sources who know her as a longtime transgender rights advocate, Budd said she is troubled that as of early this week police officials had not issued a statement or press release disclosing the attack on Dodds more than a week after it occurred.
Budd noted that police also had not officially disclosed that another transgender woman — 22-year-old Lola Bell — was robbed at gunpoint several blocks from where Dodds had been shot six days earlier, on June 28, and that police arrested a suspect in that case.
“I know there were a lot of robberies and other things that happened on the Fourth of July weekend,” Budd said. “But for two transgenders to be in some very serious incidents and the city put out absolutely nothing about it. That’s very concerning to me.”
Of particular concern, Budd said, is that the person who shot Dodds remains at large. She said the as-yet-unidentified suspect could be targeting other transgender women in that area, which is known as a place where transgender sex workers congregate.
“They need to put out the word to the community that this happened,” said Budd. “Somebody may have seen something during that early part of the morning. They may have seen her with someone,” said Budd. “Someone may have heard the shooting.”
Sheila Alexander Reid, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, said police officials did disclose information about the shooting case to a police organized committee of LGBT community advocates called the Violence Prevention and Response Team, or VPART.
But VPART members say police officials have instructed them not to disclose most of the information they receive through email messages and during VPART’s regular monthly meetings in which members are briefed by a police official. Sources familiar with VPART have said each of its members must sign a written agreement promising to keep information disclosed to them by police confidential.
“We are not allowed to speak about any ongoing investigation,” said VPART member Samantha Shinberg, a staff social worker with the D.C. LGBT Community Center who works on the Center’s Anti-Violence Project.
Rob Hawkins, a spokesperson for Mayor Muriel Bowser, said concerns about privacy rights of Dodds played some role in the initial decision not to release information about the case.
“We are deeply saddened for the victim,” he said. “Incidents of this kind are felt broadly by the community and we understand the desire to release information,” said Hawkins.
“Due to privacy rights of the victim of this case and because the MPD’s investigation in ongoing, more information will be made available as appropriate,” he said.
Budd and veteran D.C. transgender activist Jeri Hughes also expressed concern when informed by the Blade that the police reports on the incidents involving Dodds and Bell identify the two by their male birth name and make no mention that they are transgender women.
“I think that’s wrong,” said Hughes. “Are we going backwards on this?”
Hughes was referring to past statements by D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier that police would collect accurate data on transgender-related crime and would address transgender crime victims by the gender to which they identify.
The police report for Bell’s case says the arrest of the suspect in the armed robbery of Bell was made about 7:40 a.m. in the 900 block of Eastern Avenue, N.E., the same location where the incident took place on June 28. Charging documents filed in D.C. Superior Court identify the suspect arrested as Jolonta Little, 25, of Northeast D.C.
The police report shows that arresting officers initially charged Little with robbery and carrying a pistol without a license after recovering a pistol from his possession at the time of his arrest. Court records show that the U.S. Attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, moved forward in court with only the robbery charge.
During a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Sherry M. Trafford found probable cause that Little committed the robbery and referred the case to a grand jury. She ordered that Little remain held without bond until the time of his trial.
Budd said the police sources with whom she spoke told her police ruled out Little as a suspect in the shooting of Dodds, saying Little was already in police custody at the time they believe Dodds was shot.