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Plea deal for D.C. man charged with attack on gay Asian man, parents

U.S. Attorney offers to drop two of three hate crime designations

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Sean Lai, 30, an out gay man of Chinese ancestry, was beaten last August. (Photo courtesy of Lai)

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office have offered to lower two assault charges from a felony to a misdemeanor and to drop a bias-related crime designation for two of three assault charges pending against a D.C. man arrested for the Aug. 7, 2021, hate crime attack against gay Asian man Sean Lai and his parents in Northwest Washington.

According to a document filed on March 4 in D.C. Superior Court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which serves as the lead prosecutor in most adult criminal cases in D.C., offered to lower the charges against Patrick Joseph Miller Trebat, 39, in exchange for his agreement to plead guilty to the reduced charges.

Court records show that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Trebat’s attorney, Brandi Harden, are in “negotiations” presumably over the plea offer, with a felony status hearing scheduled for April 20. D.C. Superior Court Judge Michael O’Keefe, who is presiding over the case, was expected to ask the two parties at the April 20 hearing if an agreement over the plea deal has been reached.

The March 4 document filed in court by the U.S. Attorney’s Office disclosing the plea offer says the offer will expire on April 1, 2022.

Charging documents filed by D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the time of Trebat’s arrest last August state that Trebat allegedly attacked and assaulted Lai, an out gay man of Chinese ancestry, and his parents, who are also from China, while they were walking along the 3700 block of Fulton Street, N.W., near where they live.

The charging documents and a detailed arrest affidavit state that Sean Lai told D.C. police, who arrived on the scene as the incident was unfolding, that during the alleged attack Trebat called him and his parents, “faggots” and shouted, “You are not Americans!” A police report says Trebat also shouted, “Get out of my country.”

According to the police report, the family of three was transported to a local hospital for treatment of injuries listed as non-life threatening shortly after police arrested Trebat on the scene. The report and other charging documents say Trebat allegedly punched, kicked, and pushed all three family members, who at one point fell to the ground, causing various injuries.

Trebat, who lives in a Northwest D.C. apartment located near the scene of the attack, was released pending trial three days after his arrest under the court’s high intensity release program. The program imposed a nighttime curfew on Trebat and a strict order to stay away from the three people he is charged with assaulting.

The current charges pending against him include two counts of felony assault with significant bodily injury and one count of misdemeanor simple assault. Each of the three counts is designated with a bias-related enhancement based on the Asian “national origin” status of the victims.

For reasons it has declined to disclose, the U.S. Attorney’s Office chose not to include a sexual orientation bias-related designation for the assault charges filed against Trebat, even though the arrest affidavit states Trebat shouted the word “faggot” at Lai and his parents.

According to its March 4 plea bargain offer, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in exchange for a guilty plea by Trebat, will lower the two felony counts of assault with significant bodily injury to misdemeanor counts of simple assault. The offer would retain the existing single count of simple assault.

Under the D.C. Criminal Code, assault with significant bodily harm carries a maximum sentence upon conviction of three years in prison and a possible fine of $12,500. Simple assault carries a maximum sentence of 180 days in prison and a $1,000 fine.

The plea offer for Trebat also calls for withdrawing the bias-related designation for the simple assault counts pertaining to Lai and his mother while leaving just one bias-related count for the alleged assault against Lai’s father.

Under D.C.’s Bias Related Crimes Act, the conviction of a person charged with a crime with a bias-related enhancement allows a judge to increase the penalty, including a fine or jail sentence, by one-and-a-half times greater than the maximum penalty of the underlying crime such as assault.

One other provision in the plea offer gives prosecutors the option of asking the judge to order Trebat held in jail from the time he pleads guilty to the lower charges to the date when he is sentenced, which usually takes place a month or two after the plea is accepted. Another final provision says prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office are not including in the plea offer a promise to ask the judge to limit the length or severity of the sentence.  

Lai couldn’t immediately be reached for comment to obtain his and his parents’ reaction to the plea offer. Harden, Trebat’s attorney, did not respond to a phone message from the Blade asking whether Trebat will agree to the plea offer.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has a longstanding policy of not publicly disclosing its reasons for offering plea bargain deals to people charged with various crimes. Local attorneys practicing criminal law, including D.C. Attorney Jamison Koehler, have said prosecutors sometimes issue plea bargain offers if they believe there is a chance that a jury will find a defendant they are prosecuting not guilty in a trial.

A plea offer that is accepted by a defendant ensures that the defendant will at least be convicted of an offense, even if the charge is reduced, and eliminates the possibility of a complete acquittal by a jury, according to Koehler and other attorneys familiar with the criminal justice system.

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District of Columbia

Gay ANC commissioner nominated for director of D.C. Office of ANCs

Confirmation hearing set for Oct. 12

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Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kent Boese (Photo courtesy of Boese)

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) on Sept. 19 introduced a resolution nominating gay law librarian and Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kent Boese to become executive director of the D.C. Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

The ANC Office director, who is nominated and confirmed by the Council, oversees the operations of the city’s 40 ANCs, which consist of nearly 300 commissioners representing single member ANC districts located in neighborhoods throughout each of the city’s eight wards.

Boese currently represents ANC Single Member District 1A08 in Ward 1.

Shawn Hilgendorf, staff director of the D.C. Council Committee on Government Operations and Facilities, which has jurisdiction over the Office of ANCs, said Mendelson nominated Boese for the Executive Director’s position after the committee earlier this year accepted applications for the position and “interviewed a number of candidates.”

The Council’s Committee of the Whole, which is chaired by Mendelson, is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Boese on Oct. 12, Hilgendorf said. The committee consists of all 13 members of the Council. If it approves Boese’s nomination, as expected, the full Council is expected to then take a final vote on the resolution calling for Boese’s appointment.

Boese is a former president of the D.C. Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, which has since changed its name to the Capital Stonewall Democrats. In 2018, Boese ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Ward 1 D.C. Council seat in the Democratic primary.

A resumé for Boese submitted to the Council at the time of his nomination says he has worked since August 2008 as a law librarian, manager of technical services, and manager of library services for the D.C. law firm Wiley Rein.

“I’m honored & humbled by the confidence & support I’ve received from Chairman Mendelson during the selection process for a new Director of OANC,” Boese wrote in a Twitter posting. “I’m excited to leverage my ANC experience & relationships to build stronger supports & new services for ANCs across DC.”

Created under the city’s Home Rule Charter in the 1970s, ANCs serve as non-partisan, unpaid bodies that advise city government agencies on a variety of issues impacting neighborhoods, including zoning, trash collection, liquor license approval, and public safety. Although D.C. government agencies make the final decisions on these issues, they are required to give “great weight” to the recommendations of the ANCs.   

ANC commissioners are elected to two-year terms by the approximately 2,000 people who live in their Single Member Districts.

The director of the ANC Office oversees the administrative affairs, including the budgets, for all of the ANCs. The position became vacant last year when its longtime director Gottlieb Simon resigned. The Council appointed Schannette Grant as interim executive director while it conducted its search for a permanent director.

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District of Columbia

Judge postpones ruling on whether Casa Ruby should be dissolved

Request by Corado for gag order to stop ‘one sided’ information denied

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A judge denied Ruby Corado’s request for a gag order in the ongoing case. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday said she was not ready to issue a ruling on whether the LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby should be dissolved as recommended two and a half weeks earlier by a court-appointed receiver that took control of Casa Ruby’s operations.

Judge Danya A. Dayson stated at a Sept. 29 court status hearing that the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which filed civil charges against Casa Ruby and its founder and former executive director Ruby Corado in July, needed more time to complete its investigation into Casa Ruby’s operations.

“We think it may be premature to immediately commence proceedings for dissolution while our investigation is still pending,” Cara Spencer, an official with the Office of the Attorney General, told the judge. “We’re still gathering information. We still intend to shortly serve discovery so we can bring it to a resolution promptly,” she said.

The AG’s office filed a civil complaint against Casa Ruby and Corado on July 29 alleging that the LGBTQ group had violated the city’s Nonprofit Corporations Act for the past several years. The complaint says improper actions by Corado, including the unaccounted-for expenditure of funds and a failure by the Casa Ruby Board of Directors to provide oversight led to a financial crisis.

The complaint notes that Casa Ruby employees were not getting paid and over $1 million was owed to landlords in back rent for at least three buildings Casa Ruby used for its offices and to provide emergency housing for homeless LGBTQ youth.

With Corado spending most of the past year in El Salvador, according to Casa Ruby employees, the employees and managers struggling to keep its operations going said they were forced to shut down all operations in late July.

Corado, who attended the Sept. 29 status hearing through a phone hookup, said she had yet to retain a lawyer due to a “shortage of funds.” She told Dayson she expects to finally retain an attorney but said she had not received a copy of the receiver’s report that recommended Casa Ruby be dissolved. One of the attorneys with the AG’s office told Dayson the office sent a copy of the report to four email addresses it had for Corado and Casa Ruby.

At the judge’s request, one of the AG office officials sent another copy of the report to Corado during the hearing to an email address that the judge asked Corado to provide.

Dayson on Aug. 12, at the recommendation of the AG’s office, appointed the Wanda Alston Foundation, a D.C. organization that provides housing for homeless LGBTQ youth, as the Casa Ruby receiver. One day earlier, Dayson approved the AG office’s request that Casa Ruby be placed under receivership.

On Aug. 3, also at the request of the AG’s office, the judge issued an order that all of Casa Ruby’s bank accounts and financial assets, which had been under the sole control of Corado, be frozen. Dayson lifted that freeze after the Alston Foundation assumed control of Casa Ruby under the receivership.

As she had at the Aug. 11 court hearing, Corado stated in the Sept. 29 hearing that Casa Ruby’s financial problems were caused by the D.C. government withholding as much as $600,000 in grant funds for services Casa Ruby had provided.

Officials with the D.C. Department of Human Services, which initially approved the grants, have said some of the grant funds were withdrawn or cancelled because Casa Ruby failed to comply with the terms of the grants. In some cases, the officials said, required financial reports were not filed to substantiate how the funds were spent.

Corado also asked Dayson at the Sept. 29 hearing to order the receiver and officials with the AG’s office stop releasing “one-sided” information that she said was falsely placing her and Casa Ruby in a negative light through reports in the press.

“The story that has been painted is that Casa Ruby left the clients in the cold,” Corado said. “That is not accurate.”

When asked by Dayson what she wanted the court to do, Corado said, among other things, she did not want the receiver to be allowed to disclose information about what happened in the court proceedings that Corado said was being reported by the press inaccurately.

She said highly negative publicity resulting from the release of information from the previous court hearing resulted in her receiving death threats and damage to the engine of her vehicle in an act of vandalism that cost $1,700 to repair.  

Dayson said Corado appeared to be seeking a gag order to prohibit the receiver or the AG’s office from discussing or releasing information that was part of the public record. Saying there were insufficient grounds for such an order, Dayson announced she was denying a request to seal court records or issue a gag order against the receiver.

The judge ruled in favor of a request by the AG office attorney to file an amended complaint for the case, directing them to file the amended complaint by Nov. 28. Court records show that Dayson directed the parties to return to court for scheduling hearings on Oct. 28 and Jan. 6. 

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District of Columbia

Whitman-Walker wins $280,000 grant to support LGBTQ immigrants

Providing legal resources for migrants facing persecution

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‘Having a lawyer can make the difference between having legal status and living in the shadows,’ said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health, which provides medical as well as legal services for the D.C.-area LGBTQ community, was among 25 community-based organizations to receive a grant from the D.C. government earlier this month to provide legal support for immigrants.

Amy Nelson, director of Whitman-Walker’s legal department, said the $280,000 grant it received from the city for 2023 marked the fifth year in a row that the city has supported its work in providing legal support for LGBTQ immigrants arriving in D.C. from countries in Latin America as well as Asia, Africa, and Europe.

“We help people file for U.S. asylum on grounds of HIV, sexual orientation, and gender identity,” Nelson said. “Most of our cases now are trans women from Central America,” Nelson told the Blade. “But we also have people from Cameroon, Russia, and Jamaica.”

She said Whitman-Walker currently has about 150 open cases, including cases handled by outside attorneys working on a pro bono basis.

Nelson said Whitman-Walker’s legal team has provided legal advice to some of the migrants arriving by bus to D.C. that the governors of Texas and Arizona have sent in recent months. But she said most of those arriving by bus from the two states plan to leave D.C. for other parts of the country.

A Sept. 16 statement released by the office of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says the mayor’s fiscal year 2023 budget allocated a total of $3.5 million for grants from the city’s Immigrant Justice Legal Service (IJLS) grant program to 25 local organizations, including Whitman-Walker.

“Over the years, the IJLS program has not only benefited DC’s immigrant residents, it has also helped us advance our DC values and strengthened the capacity of legal services providers and pro bono attorneys,” Bowser said in the statement.

“Having a lawyer can make the difference between having legal status and living in the shadows, and I am incredibly grateful for the community organizations who have worked with us to make the IJLS program a success,” she said.

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