D.C. police say they are investigating a Dec. 29 incident in which a private security guard is believed to have fatally shot a transgender woman in a vacant apartment building in Southeast Washington after the woman allegedly began to shoot at the guard and another guard with him.
District Police Chief Peter Newsham announced at a Dec. 31 news conference at police headquarters that the woman’s body was found in the vacant building on Dec. 30, one day after an exchange of gunfire between an unidentified suspect and one of two security guards employed by the Metropolitan Tactical Elite Protective Services security company.
“The suspect fled and it was initially believed that the suspect had fled the vacant building,” Newsham said at the news conference in referring to the Sunday, Dec. 29 incident.
But the next day, on Dec. 30, Newsham said, the security company called D.C. police to report an unconscious person had been found in the same building.
“D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene and determined the victim displayed no signs of life,” Newsham said. “The decedent was carrying an identification card indicating she was an adult male,” he said. “However, we have received information through our investigation that the decedent identified as a transgender female.”
Newsham said the woman’s identity was being withheld pending notification of next of kin. Police had not disclosed the transgender woman’s name or other information about her such as her age or where she lived as of late New Year’s Day.
According to Newsham, because the incident involved the use of force by a private security guard, the D.C. police Homicide Branch and the department’s Internal Affairs Division was conducting an investigation into the woman’s death.
D.C. police also announced that they found a handgun near the trans woman’s body at the time they arrived on the scene after being called by the security company.
“The case remains under investigation,” a police statement says. “Anyone with information is asked to contact MPD at 202-727-9099.”
Transgender rights advocate Earline Budd, who works for the D.C. sex worker advocacy and support group HIPS, told the Washington Blade sex workers are believed to sometimes engage with clients at the vacant building where the trans woman’s body was found. Budd said she is skeptical about the D.C. police assumption, which Newsham called a theory, that the woman found dead is the same person who exchanged gunfire with the security guard.
Budd said she has heard from police sources that the woman found in the building had been shot in the chest and suffered significant bleeding. Budd said she also heard reports, confirmed by Newsham at the news conference, that police used dogs to try to track down the location of the suspect that exchanged gunfire with the security guards, but the dogs could not locate the suspect on the day of the gunfire on Dec. 29.
According to Budd, there is a “good possibility” that the trans woman found dead the following day was not the person who exchanged gunfire with the security guard and that she was shot and killed by someone else in the building, possibly a client seeking to engage in sex for money.
When asked at the news conference if police believe the transgender woman found dead in the vacant building was the person shot the previous day by one of the security guards, Newsham gave this response:
“That is what we believe at this time through the investigation, yes. We haven’t determined that conclusively but the facts and circumstances and the evidence we’ve recovered suggests that that’s the case…That’s the theory we are working with right now, yes.”
Police spokesperson Karimah Bilal on Thursday declined to say whether an autopsy found one or more bullets in the trans woman’s body and whether the bullets match those fired from the security guard’s gun. Bilal would only say the investigation remains active and police have not yet released the name of the deceased trans woman.
A D.C. police report on the incident identifies the building where the incident took place as the Belmont Crossing Apartments at 4273 Barnaby Road, S.E. The report does not say why the building was vacant. A real estate site says the three-story building has 11 apartments.
Budd said the trans woman’s death in the vacant building became the fifth death of a transgender woman in D.C. in the month of December. She said the four other deaths were due to either natural causes or a suspected drug overdose.
Among them was the death of former homeless trans woman Alice Carter, who died at a hospital after being found unconscious on Dec. 17 on the 1600 block of 17th Street, N.W., where she hung out and sometimes slept on the sidewalk near a McDonald’s restaurant for many years.
Police and the city’s Medical Examiner’s office have yet to disclose a cause of death for Carter, but people who knew her and provided services for her said she struggled with mental health and addiction related issues.