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Judge sets $50,000 bond for release of Brett Parson

Former D.C. police lieutenant must remain in Florida while case is pending

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A Broward County, Fla., judge on Feb. 18 set a $50,000 bond for the release of former D.C. police lieutenant Brett Parson six days after Parson was arrested in Boca Raton on Feb. 12 for allegedly having sex with a 16-year-old boy in violation of Florida’s age of consent law, which is 18.

Online court records show that Broward County Judge Phoebee Francois set bond at $25,000 for each of the two charges of Unlawful Sexual Activity with a Minor filed against Parson by Coconut Creek, Fla., police. The court records do not show whether Parson paid the required 10 percent of the bond at $5,000 to secure his release.

But a court clerk said a public record check with the Broward County Jail to determine whether Parson was still incarcerated would determine whether he had secured his release on bond. A check with the jail on Monday afternoon found that Parson was not an inmate there at that time.

The online court records show that Judge Francois issued an order prohibiting Parson from having any contact with the 16-year-old he is charged with having sex with and prohibiting Parson from having any contact “with minors under 18 years old.”

In addition, the judge ordered that Parson must reside at the Boca Raton apartment owned by his parents and where he had been staying at the time of his arrest “until further order of the court.”

The online court records as of Monday had no information about whether Parson has retained an attorney or when his next court appearance was to take place. A Pretrial Services Supervision Order issued by the judge says Parson must report two times per week by phone to a designated Pretrial Services office.

An arrest affidavit filed by Coconut Creek police says the 16-year-old told police investigators he and Parson met on the gay online dating app Growlr and agreed to meet for a sexual encounter in a Coconut Creek location after exchanging “explicit” photos of each other. The affidavit says the 16-year-old, who was driving a car, met Parson at a location they arranged through a series of text messages.

After meeting at an initial location, the affidavit says the 16-year-old told police the two drove in their separate cars to another location at the site of a secluded parking lot at about 1 a.m. on Feb. 12 where the 16-year-old entered the car Parson was driving and the two performed oral sex on each other.

Without giving a reason, the affidavit says the 16-year-old provided police with full details of his interaction with Parson that police would otherwise not have known after police stopped him when he and Parson were following each other in their cars to find another secluded location. The affidavit says police stopped the 16-year-old after he drove his car into a restricted space owned by Comcast.

It says police also stopped Parson’s car but allowed Parson to drive away after he said he was a D.C. police officer who was lost and did not know who the 16-year-old was in the other car. After obtaining Parson’s identification from the text messages in the phone of the 16-year-old, who turned his phone over to police, Coconut Creek police arranged for Boca Raton police to arrest Parson later that day on Feb. 12 at the site of his parents’ apartment in Boca Raton.
The Growlr site where the 16-year-old and Parson met has a policy of requiring anyone using the site to be at least 18 years old, which is the legal age of consent in Florida. But according to attorneys familiar with Florida law, not knowing someone’s real age may not be legal grounds for a defense.

“In Florida, laws governing sexual activity with minors are ‘strict liability’ offenses,” said Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Norm Kent, who is the owner of the South Florida Gay News, an LGBTQ community newspaper.

“This means that a person can be charged where they do not know the age of the person that they engaged in sexual activity with, or even worse, where the other person has lied about his or her age,” Kent told the Washington Blade. “Laws like these can obviously lead to very unfair results.”

Kent noted that in Parson’s case, the alleged victim used a dating app that limits its users to individuals over the age of 18. He said it also appears from the police reports that the 16-year-old never told Parson he was under 18.

“These are troubling facts that could be presented to a prosecutor or judge in support of mitigation, but the law does not allow them to operate as a complete defense to the crimes charged,” Kent said. “It’s a challenging case requiring experienced counsel for the officer’s defense.”

Parson’s arrest comes about two years after he retired from the Metropolitan Police Department of D.C. after a 26-year career in which among other duties, he served as supervisor of the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit.

Reaction to the news of his arrest by members of D.C.’s LGBTQ community has been mixed, with several prominent activists expressing support for Parson by saying his side of the story should be told and he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty at a trial. Others, however, have posted Facebook messages calling Parson a “predator” targeting an underage victim who should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

At a Feb. 16 press conference on an unrelated subject, the Blade asked D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee for his thoughts on Parson’s arrest.

“I worked closely with him during his time here at the Metropolitan Police Department,” Contee said. “He served the citizens of the District of Columbia well,” the chief said.

“This investigation is taking place in Florida. I’m sure he’s entitled to due process and whatever the facts are in that case will be revealed. But I really have nothing beyond that,” Contee said. “I don’t know a whole lot about that case.”

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Democrats backs Robert White over Bowser

LGBTQ group endorses Erin Palmer over incumbent Mendelson

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Council member Robert White won the backing of Capital Stonewall Democrats in his bid for mayor over incumbent Muriel Bowser. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, announced on May 17 that it has selected D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large) over incumbent Mayor Muriel Bowser and political newcomer Erin Palmer over D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson as its endorsed candidates in the city’s June 21 Democratic primary.

With Bowser and Mendelson as well as White having longstanding records of support for LGBTQ rights and Palmer expressing strong support for the LGBTQ community, local observers say the LGBTQ Democratic group’s 163 voting members appear to have based their endorsement decisions on other pressing issues facing the city rather than only LGBTQ specific issues.

In other races, Capital Stonewall Democrats, formerly known as the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which was founded in 1976, voted to endorse incumbent Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau over gay former D.C. police officer Salah Czapary and community activist Sabel Harris who are running against Nadeau.

In the Ward 5 Council race, the group has endorsed gay D.C. Board of Education member Zachary Parker in a five-candidate contest for the seat being vacated by incumbent Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who ran unsuccessfully for the office of D.C. Attorney General.

The group has also endorsed Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who is running unopposed in the primary; D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who’s favored to win re-election against two lesser-known opponents; and D.C. shadow U.S. Rep. Oye Owolewa, who’s also favored over a lesser known opponent.

Capital Stonewall Democrats announced it did not make an endorsement in the Ward 3 and At-Large D.C. Council races and in the D.C. Attorney General race because no candidate received a required 60 percent of the vote under the group’s longstanding rules for endorsements.

By not endorsing in the At-Large race, the group passed over incumbent At-Large Council member Anita Bonds, a longtime supporter of LGBTQ issues. Bonds is being challenged by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa Gore, former D.C. shadow House member Nate Fleming, and former D.C. Council staffer Dexter Williams.

In the hotly contested Ward 3 Council race, nine candidates are competing for the seat being vacated by incumbent Mary Cheh, another longtime LGBTQ rights supporter.

In the race for attorney general, three prominent local attorneys — Brian Schwalb, Ryan Jones, and Bruce Spiva — are competing for the AG position being vacated by incumbent Karl Racine, who chose not to run for re-election.

Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsements follow a series of five LGBTQ candidate forums the group held virtually in which most of the candidates running in the various races attended.
In the group’s mayoral form, Bowser was the only one of the four mayoral contenders that did not attend. Her supporters said she had a conflicting event organized by gay Democratic activist Kurt Vorndran that prevented her from attending the Stonewall event.

Those who attended the mayoral forum were Robert White, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and former attorney and community activist James Butler.
A detailed vote tally released by Capital Stonewall Democrats shows the vote count for each of the endorsed candidates as well as candidates in the races for which the group did not make an endorsement.

In the mayoral race, Robert White received 120 votes, or 74.5 percent. Bowser came in second place with 37 votes or 23.0 percent; Trayon White received just two votes or 1.2 percent, with Butler receiving just 1 vote at 0.6 percent. One vote was cast for no endorsement.

In the D.C. Council Chair race, Palmer received 89 votes or 60.1 percent, just surpassing the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement. Mendelson received 48 votes or 32.4 percent. Eleven votes were cast for no endorsement.

In the Ward 1 Council race, Nadeau received 100 votes or 69.4 percent compared to gay candidate Czapary, who came in second place with 23 votes or 16.0 percent. Candidate Sabel Harris came in third place with 9 votes or 6.3 percent, with a no endorsement selection receiving 12 votes or 8.3 percent.

In the Ward 5 contest, gay school board member Parker received 91 votes or 64.5 percent. Candidate Faith Hubbard came in second with 31 votes or 22.0 percent. The remaining candidates received fewer than 10 votes each, including former At-Large and former Ward 5 Council member Vincent Orange, who received 5 votes or 3.5 percent.

“Since Capital Stonewall Democrats has only 221 members, and only 163 bothered to vote, this is clearly not representative of the LGBTQ+ community in the District,” said gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who is supporting Bowser for mayor.

But longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate A. Billy S. Jones-Hennin is among the local activists who view the Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement of lesser-known challengers – most of whom have progressive, left-leaning views – as a reflection of changes in the demographics of the LGBTQ community and the Stonewall group’s members.

“At the forefront for voters is who they feel can address core problems like crime, open drug transactions, and increased homeless populations,” Jones-Hennin told the Blade. “Just asking voters for support based on their support of the LGBTQ+ community in the past does not cut it,” he said. “We are multi-faceted voters looking for new, more progressive and aggressive leadership.”

The Capital Stonewall Democrats list of endorsements as well as races with no endorsement can be viewed below:

• Mayor: Robert White, with 74.5% of the round one vote
• DC Attorney General: No Endorsement
• DC Council Chair: Erin Palmer, with 60.1% of the round one vote
• Ward 1 Council: Brianne K. Nadeau, with 69.4% of the round one vote
• Ward 3 Council: No Endorsement
• Ward 5 Council: Zachary Parker, with 64.5% of the round one vote
• Ward 6 Council: Charles Allen, with 83.2% of the round one vote
• At-Large Council: No Endorsement
• Delegate to U.S. House of Representatives: Eleanor Holmes Norton, with 69.7% of the round one vote
• U.S. Representative: Oye Owolewa, with 66.1% of the round one vote

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District of Columbia

Pannell resigns in protest from Ward 8 Council member’s LGBT Commission

Says Trayon White has no out member of his staff

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Phil Pannell resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights activist Phil Pannell announced on May 6 that he has resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) on grounds that White does not have an LGBTQ person on his Council staff.

White’s office has said the Council member created the commission to “focus on the specific needs of this community” in his role as a supporter of LGBTQ equality.

“For me, this is a major issue of inclusion, affirmative action and diversity,” Pannell said in an email message announcing his resignation. “I as a Black Gay man cannot in good conscience continue to be a member of my Councilmember’s LGBT Commission when he has no one from my community on his staff,” Pannell’s announcement message continues.

“This is hypocritical at best and structurally homophobic at worst,” he said. “I deeply resent and refuse to be used as anyone’s homosexual prop for any purposes. Therefore, I resign from the commission effective immediately.”

In response to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on Pannell’s resignation, Julia Jessie, White’s director of communications, said White’s Council office “follows all legal HR procedures and hires based on experience and skillset.” Jessie added, “As an employer, we do not discriminate or consider a person’s race, color, religion, or sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity, when making decisions about employment qualifications.”

According to Jessie, “We do, however, harvest a safe and inclusionary work environment where employees who wish to voluntarily disclose their sexual orientation of gender identity feel comfortable doing so.”

White’s office released a statement from the Ward 8 LGBT Commission’s chair, Marvin ‘Rahim’ Briggs, saying the commission “regretfully accepts” Pannell’s resignation.

“The Commission will continue to focus on and address issues affecting Ward 8 LGBTQ,” Briggs says in the statement. “We’ll continue to organize to promote acceptance of LGBTQ community diversity and to foster respect and appreciation for each member of the community residing in Ward 8.”

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District of Columbia

Two gay candidates disqualified from D.C. primary ballot

Republican, Libertarian activists withdraw from races

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(Blade archive photo by Aram Vartian)

A member of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest LGBTQ local political group, mounted a successful challenge before the D.C. Board of Elections earlier this month that resulted in a gay Republican and a gay Libertarian Party activist withdrawing as candidates for public office in the city’s June 21 primary.

James Harnett, 24, a member of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee and a member of the staff of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), filed challenges to the candidacy of gay Libertarian Party activist Bruce Majors, who was running unopposed in the June 21 primary for the office of both D.C. Delegate to the U.S. House and chair of the Libertarian Party of D.C.

The Board of Elections upheld Harnett’s challenge claiming that Majors failed to obtain a sufficient number of valid petition signatures needed to be placed on the ballot for both offices, according to elections board spokesperson Nicholas Jacobs. Majors withdrew his candidacy for both offices rather than contest the challenge.

The Board of Elections also upheld a challenge filed by Harnett against the candidacy of gay Republican and D.C. Log Cabin Republicans organization member Andrew Desser, who was running unopposed in the primary for the position of Ward 1 Chairperson of the D.C. Republican Committee.

Desser told the Blade he acknowledged that he fell short in obtaining the needed number of valid petition signatures and would not contest the challenge.

Harnett, who appeared to be acting on his own behalf and not representing the Capital Stonewall Democrats in his challenges to Majors and Desser before the election board, did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Board of Elections records showed that he also successfully challenged six other candidates seeking ballot placement in the June 21 primary, one of whom, Lori Furstenberg, was running for mayor as a Republican and another, Corren Brown, was running for mayor as a Statehood-Green Party member.

The others Harnett mounted a successful challenge against were GOP candidates running for the Ward 2, Ward 4, and Ward 7 GOP Chairperson positions; and Leniqua ‘Dominique’ Jenkins, a Democrat running for the at-large D.C. Council seat, who was the only Democrat challenged by Harnett.

Harnett, a former ANC commissioner in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, ran unsuccessfully in 2020 for the nonpartisan office of D.C. Board of Education for Ward 2. Among the candidates he ran against was gay education advocate Allister Chang, who won that race.

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