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Del. gay man who alleged police abuse found guilty

Anti-gay bias allegation not mentioned in trial

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excessive force, Robaire G. Lizama, anti-gay attack, Lewes, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade

Robaire G. Lizama was found guilty of several misdemeanor charges.
(Photo courtesy Lizama)

GEORGETOWN, Del. — A 66-year-old gay man who filed a complaint against a police officer in Lewes, Del., for allegedly using excessive force to arrest him in January during an altercation at a hospital emergency room was found guilty by a Delaware judge on Tuesday on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, menacing, and resisting arrest.

 Judge Rosemary Beauregard of the Sussex County Court of Common Pleas announced at the conclusion of a non-jury trial in Georgetown, Del., that a state prosecutor proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Robaire G. Lizama engaged in “hysterical and abusive” behavior at the hospital that justified his arrest and confirmed he committed the three offenses.

In a development that court observers said was routine for a misdemeanor case like this one, Beauregard handed down an immediate sentence for Lizama that included a 30-day suspended jail term, six months of court-monitored probation, and a $600 fine plus $57 in court reimbursement costs.

In another development likely to surprise LGBT activists familiar with the case, Lizama’s public defender attorney Heather Lingo made no mention during the trial of Lizama’s written complaint to the Lewes Police Department in February alleging that the arresting officer singled him out because he’s gay.

 When approached by the Blade after the trial Lingo declined to comment, saying she would have nothing more to say about the case.

 “I don’t think he would grab a straight man, bear hug him and then body slam him to the ground and try to tell him he’s being arrested,” Lizama told the Washington Blade at the time he filed his complaint with Lewes Police Chief Thomas Sell in February.

 Lizama, a former D.C. resident who lives in Lewes, has accused Officer Tyrone Woodyard of fabricating the charges against him after throwing him to the floor, causing a head injury during a Jan. 25 incident at Beebe Healthcare, a hospital in Lewes.

 The arrest report prepared by Woodyard says Lizama had been acting in a disorderly manner after he accompanied a female friend to the emergency room who had been experiencing chest pain. Lizama testified at the trial that he was concerned that nurses who admitted and began to treat his friend weren’t being compassionate in their handling of the situation.

 He denied he acted in a threatening or menacing way or that he refused to leave the emergency room when asked to do so by one of the nurses.

 Jaqueline Marshall, the emergency room nurse who participated in the treatment of Lizama’s friend, and hospital security officer Julian Peacock testified that Lizama – while understandably upset that his friend may have been suffering from a heart attack – behaved in such an aggressive and hysterical way that the nursing staff became alarmed and felt threatened.

Marshall, Peacock and Officer Woodyard each testified that Lizama “lunged” at Woodyard while Woodyard and Peacock were escorting Lizama out of the emergency room area to the hospital’s lobby, where they told him he would have to wait while his friend was treated.

 Woodyard told the court he couldn’t immediately determine whether Lizama was armed when Lizama suddenly turned toward him in an aggressive way. He said he decided to “taken him down” on the floor out of concern that Lizama could have harmed the nurses and others walking through the emergency room area.

 Woodyard and Peacock testified that when Woodyard tried to handcuff Lizama after telling him he was under arrest, Lizama resisted the officer’s attempts to place cuffs on one of his hands and struggled with the officer and Peacock on the floor. This prompted another nurse to enter the fray and assist in restraining Lizama, the two testified.

 Lizama testified that he turned toward Woodyard because he was trying to find his way to the entrance to the hospital lobby and in no way was attempting to attack or harm Woodyard. He said he didn’t resist the officer’s attempt to handcuff him but was moving about because he was in pain and was trying to place his hand over his forehead above his eye, which was bleeding after his head struck the floor when Woodyard knocked him down.

 In response to questioning by Lingo, Marshall and Peacock acknowledged that Lizama was admitted to the emergency department for treatment after his arrest. Lingo presented a photo of Lizama as evidence that showed a gash over his eye and pointed to Lizama’s testimony that the injury required a plastic bandage to stop the bleeding,

 Assistant State Attorney General Paul Seward, the lead prosecutor in the case, presented as evidence a video recording taken from the hospital’s security cameras that shows Lizama and his friend enter the hospital’s emergency department. The video footage shows Lizama moving about and raising his arms in what appeared to be an agitated state as he talked to one of the nurses at the admissions desk.

 Beauregard said she based her verdict on what she called “credible and consistent” testimony by Marshall, Peacock and Woodward. She said the three witnesses along with the video recording at the trial convinced her that Lizama’s behavior was, in fact, posing a potential danger to the hospital staff and other visitors and proved he committed the misdemeanor offenses of disorderly conduct, menacing and resisting arrest.

 The judge called Lizama’s testimony at the trial “inconsistent” and “contradictory.”

 “All three of those witnesses thought something bad was going to happen,” she said. “He put the public at risk and he put his friend at risk,” said Beauregard, saying the disturbance Lizama was creating could have interfered with the nurses’ and doctors’ effort to diagnose and treat the friend.

 It was later determined that the friend did not have a heart attack.

 Lizama told the Blade after the trial that he had told Lingo, his attorney, about his belief that Officer Woodyard targeted him because he’s gay. He said he doesn’t know why Lingo didn’t raise that concern during the trial.

 He has acknowledged that he doesn’t recall Woodyard making anti-gay remarks or making a reference to his sexual orientation at the time of the arrest but said he nevertheless got the impression that the officer assumed he’s gay.

 When approached after the trial and asked by the Blade about Lizama’s allegation of anti-gay bias, Officer Woodyard refused to comment, saying he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

 “I’m totally shocked,” Lizama said of the judge’s guilty verdict in an interview after the trial.

 He said Lingo suggested he accept a plea bargain offer that Seward made minutes before the start of the trial. Still reeling over the verdict, Lizama said he didn’t remember what the terms of the plea offer consisted of.

 “I told my attorney if I don’t think I’m guilty why would I plead guilty?” said Lizama. “I wholeheartedly didn’t think I was guilty so I said no. I wanted to go with the trial.”

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District of Columbia

Dignity Washington opens new center in Dupont Circle

Proceeds from sale of old building used to expand programming

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Dignity Washington President Tom Yates. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The local LGBTQ Catholic organization Dignity Washington recently opened its new Dignity Center office and community meeting space at a Dupont Circle condominium building that includes first-floor offices for small businesses and community organizations.

Dignity Washington President Tom Yates said the new space at the Imperial House condominium building at 1601 18th Street, N.W., is currently being used as Dignity’s office headquarters and for meetings of the group’s board and committees. He said as COVID-related restrictions are relaxed the space will be used for various events and possible use by other LGBTQ community organizations.

Yates said the group purchased the 1,700-square-foot office space in March of this year, eight months after selling its former Dignity Center building at 721 8th St., S.E., in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill. Dignity officials have said the Capitol Hill building was larger than the space the group needed and the proceeds from its sale would provide funds to expand its programs.

“Dignity Washington, making use of the fiscal support made possible by the change of properties, hopes to become more active speaking truth to power of the Catholic Church,” Yates told the Blade. “The new facility is only a handful of blocks from the Cathedral of St. Matthew,” he said, referring to one of the city’s largest Catholic churches.

Noting the Catholic Church’s historic lack of support for the LGBTQ community, Yates said the proximity of the new Dignity Center would help the group’s mission of showing “the local same-sex community that one can be both Catholic and same-sex loving.” 

Yates said Dignity Washington, founded in 1972, is the largest chapter of the national LGBTQ Catholic organization Dignity USA. 

Dignity Washington, among other things, organizes a weekly 6 p.m. Sunday Mass for LGBTQ Catholics and their friends and families at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church at 1830 Connecticut Ave., N.W.

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In plea deal, D.C. trans woman’s killers could be free in 3 years

Two in 2016 killing of Dee Dee Dodds guilty of voluntary manslaughter

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Deeniquia Dodds, gay news, Washington Blade
Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds was killed on July 4, 2016. (Photo via Facebook)

A D.C. LGBTQ anti-violence group will be submitting a community impact statement for a D.C. Superior Court judge scheduled to sentence two men on Dec. 10 for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds in a case D.C. police listed as a hate crime.

Stephania Mahdi, chair of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s Anti-Violence Project, told the Washington Blade the project has been in contact with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C., which is prosecuting the case against the two defendants set to be sentenced this week, to arrange for the submission of a statement on the impact the murder of Dodds has had on the community.

The impact statement would also apply to the sentencing of two other men charged in the Dodds murder case who are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 20.

The Dec. 10 sentencing for Jolonta Little, 30, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, was set to take place a little over two months after Little and Johnson pleaded guilty on Sept. 30 to a single count of voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.

In exchange for the guilty plea for voluntary manslaughter, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to drop the charge of first-degree murder while armed originally brought against the two men. The plea agreement also called for dropping additional charges against them in connection with the Dodds murder, including robbery while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and unlawful possession of a firearm.

In addition, the plea agreement includes a promise by prosecutors to ask D.C. Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee, who is presiding over the case, to issue a sentence of eight years in prison for both men. Under the D.C. criminal code, a conviction on a voluntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Johnson has been held without bond for five years and three months since his arrest in the Dodds case in September 2016. Little has been held without bond since his arrest for the Dodds murder in February 2017. Courthouse observers say that judges almost always give defendants credit for time served prior to their sentencing, a development that would likely result in the two men being released in about three years.

The plea deal for the two men came two and a half years after a D.C. Superior Court jury became deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charges against Johnson and Little following a month-long trial, prompting Judge Lee to declare a mistrial on March 6, 2019.

The two other men charged in Dodds’ murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain offer by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial in which they pled guilty to second-degree murder. Both testified at Johnson and Little’s the trial as government witnesses.

In dramatic testimony, Cyheme Hall told the jury that it was Johnson who fatally shot Dodds in the neck at point blank range after he said she grabbed the barrel of Johnson’s handgun as Johnson and Hall attempted to rob her on Division Ave., N.E., near where she lived. Hall testified that the plan among the four men to rob Dodds did not include the intent to kill her.

In his testimony, Hall said that on the day of Dodd’s murder, he and the other three men made plans to commit armed robberies for cash in areas of D.C. where trans women, some of whom were sex workers, congregated. He testified that the four men got into a car driven by Little and searched the streets for victims they didn’t expect to offer resistance.

D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office initially designated the murder charge against Little and Johnson as an anti-trans hate crime offense based on findings by homicide detectives that the men were targeting trans women for armed robberies. But during Johnson and Little’s trial, Judge Lee dismissed the hate crime designation at the request of defense attorneys on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support a hate crime designation.

At the request of prosecutors, Judge Lee scheduled a second trial for Johnson and Little on the murder charge for Feb. 25, 2020. But court records show the trial date was postponed to June 22, 2020, and postponed several more times – to Jan 11, 2021, and later to Feb. 17, 2022, due to COVID-related restrictions before the plea bargain offer was agreed to in September of this year.  The public court records do not show why the trial was postponed the first few times prior to the start of COVID restrictions on court proceedings.

Legal observers have said long delays in trials, especially murder trials, often make it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain a conviction because memories of key witnesses sometimes become faulty several years after a crime was committed.

“The D.C. Anti-Violence Project is disappointed to hear about the unfortunate proceedings in the case to bring justice for Dee Dee Dodds,” Mahdi, the Anti-Violence Project’s chair, told the Blade in a statement.

“A plea bargain from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter as well as a reduction of years in sentencing from 30 to 8 communicates not only a miscarriage of justice, but a message of penalization for victims who attempt to protect themselves during a violent assault,” Mahdi said. “The continual impact of reducing the culpability of perpetrators who target members of specifically identified communities sends a malicious message to criminals that certain groups of people are easier targets with lenient consequences,” she said.

“As a result of this pattern, the D.C. community has failed to defend the life and civil rights of Dee Dee Dodds and leaves criminally targeted LGBTQ+ community and other cultural identity communities critically undervalued by stewards of justice in the nation’s capital,” Mahdi concluded.  

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has declined to disclose the reason why prosecutors decided to offer Johnson and Little the plea bargain deal rather than petition the court for a second trial for the two men on the first-degree murder charge.

Attorneys familiar with cases like this, where a jury becomes deadlocked, have said prosecutors sometimes decide to offer a plea deal rather than go to trial again out of concern that another jury could find a defendant not guilty on all charges.

During the trial, defense attorneys told the jury that the Hall brothers were habitual liars and there were inconsistencies in their testimony. They argued that the Halls’ motives were aimed strictly at saying what prosecutors wanted them to say so they could get off with a lighter sentence.

The two prosecutors participating in the trial disputed those claims, arguing that government witnesses provided strong evidence that Johnson and Little should be found guilty of first-degree murder and other related charges.

Before the jury announced it was irreconcilably deadlocked on the murder charges, the jury announced it found Little not guilty of seven separate counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and found Johnson not guilty of five counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.

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Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate

More than 100 people attended ‘We ARE the People’ rally

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(Photo by Bob Ford)

A diverse crowd of 100 to 200 folks gathered at the Columbia Lakefront on Saturday to attend a rally to push back against censorship in the county’s public schools as well as homophobia and transphobia emanating from a group of conservative parents.

The rally called “We ARE the People” was organized in response to the comments and actions by members of a Maryland-based conservative group “We the People 2” that among other things are anti-masks, anti-vaccinations and are opposed to teaching racial history in the schools. They also oppose two books that are in Howard County Public Schools library shelves: “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.”

Speakers at a We the People 2 rally last month at an Elkridge warehouse condemned the books, which contain LGBTQ characters, as sexually explicit. The group later filed police reports against the Board of Education alleging the books constitute pornography with “graphic sexual content and materials being used and disseminated in public schools,” according to the group’s press release.  A flier announcing this action used the loaded terminology, “We must not allow our children to be abused and victimized.”

Among the speakers at the Elkridge rally was Republican Gordana Schifanelli who is running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Daniel Cox. Another speaker, George Johnson, a teacher from Baltimore City, was heard on a video of the event saying, “We’re doing God’s work because Marxism, homosexuality and transgenderism is the devil.”

In response, the pro-LGBTQ rally in Columbia announced the following:

We are taking a stance against hate in the community as we raise our voices in support of equity in our schools. Attacks on teachers and school staff have prompted us to stand united and drown out the noise.

In addition, We ARE the People states:

We stand for LGBTQ+ students and educational professionals

Teaching accurate history to our students

Supporting equitable practices in our schools

Providing students with relevant LGBTQ+ media through their school libraries

The two-hour rally, which was attended by several county council members, featured speakers representing a wide swath of community, educational, religious and political organizations. They included: Community Allies of Rainbow Youth (CARY), Black Lives Activists of Columbia (BLAC), Absolutely Dragulous, Howard County Schools, PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County, IndivisibleHoCoMd, Columbia Democratic Club, Howard Progressive Project, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (UUCC), HoCo Pride, Progressive Democrats of Howard County, and the Columbia United Christian Church.

Many of the speakers denounced the censorship of materials that are needed by many LGBTQ students. Genderqueer and non-binary students, they point out, are most vulnerable and need affirming literature to help with their development and self-acceptance. The speakers also decried hate speech, which has surfaced again, as well as the opposition to teaching history as it relates to race.

Others argued that the community must not sit back and take it from extremist groups.

“You are all defenders,” said Cynthia Fikes, president of the Columbia Democratic Club, in a fiery speech. “But to succeed a strong defense also needs a strong offense.”

The two books in question were recently the center of controversy in the Fairfax County (Va.) school system. The books were removed in September from the shelves of the high schools pending a comprehensive review following opposition from a parent at a school board meeting. It should be noted that both books were previous winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognize “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”  

The board established two committees consisting of parents, staff and students to assess the content of the books and make recommendations to the assistant superintendent of instructional services who would make the final determination.

One committee found that “Lawn Boy” includes themes that “are affirming for students” with marginalized identities. “There is no pedophilia in the book,” the committee added. The other committee found that “Gender Queer” depicts “difficulties non-binary and asexual individuals may face.” The committee concluded that “the book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.” The books were restored to the shelves.

“As this backlash against LGTBQ+ literature demonstrates, we must be ready to stand up and defend the progress we have made,” said Jennifer Mallo, member of the Howard County Board of Education, expressing her own point of view. “We must ensure our elected officials understand and share our values and will fight for our marginalized students.”

The enthusiastic crowd was clearly pleased with the event.

“Today’s rally was meant to inspire our community to take action,” said Chris Hefty, who was the lead organizer of the rally and the emcee. “Action that protects our youth. Action that protects our educators and admins. This action comes in the form of advocacy, communication with elected officials so they know your voice, and through well informed voting to ensure those who represent us are those we know will support us. We shared a message of love, acceptance, and warmth.”

Hefty adds, “The unity we facilitated through this rally was a sight to behold. As the lead organizer I couldn’t have been more pleased! In the future we will be sure to better meet the needs of all our community members. We thank all those in our community for their support and feedback and look forward to accomplishing great things together moving forward.”

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