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Fourth man charged in 2016 D.C. trans murder sentenced to seven years

But with credit for time served, Cyheme Hall could be free in two years

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<strong.Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds was shot to death in 2016. (Photo via Facebook)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on May 10 handed down a sentence of seven years in prison for the last of four men originally charged with first degree murder while armed in the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds on a street in Northeast Washington.

Judge Milton C. Lee delivered his sentence on Tuesday for D.C. resident Cyheme Hall, 26, just under three weeks after he issued the same seven-year sentence to Hall’s brother, Shareem Hall, 28, who, along with two other D.C. men, were initially charged with first degree murder while armed in connection with the Dodds case.

Police and prosecutors said Dodds was one of several transgender women that the Hall brothers and co-defendants Jalonta Little, 31, and Monte Johnson, 26, targeted for armed robberies in the early morning hours of July 4, 2016. Court charging documents say Johnson allegedly fatally shot Dodds in the neck after she fought back during the robbery attempt.

Lee acknowledged at the Tuesday, May 10 sentencing hearing that Cyheme Hall and his brother agreed to an offer in 2019 to cooperate with police and prosecutors following their arrests in exchange for being allowed to plead guilty to a second-degree murder charge. The two brothers testified as government witnesses at Little and Johnson’s trial in 2019 on the first degree murder charge and other charges, including armed robbery.

The judge noted that because of that cooperation, prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. issued a recommendation that the two brothers be sentenced to seven years in the Dodds case, a sentence that Lee pointed out is far lower than the potential sentence for a second-degree murder conviction. Under D.C. law, a second-degree murder conviction has a maximum sentence of life in prison.

As part of the plea offer that Cyheme Hall accepted in 2019, he also pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit a crime of violence. Lee on May 10 sentenced him to seven years for that charge in addition to the seven years for the second degree murder charge. However, Lee ordered that the two sentences be served concurrently for a total of seven years.

Under standard sentencing practices, Lee gave Cyheme Hall and his brother credit for the just over five years the two have already served in jail since the time of their arrest. That means Cyheme Hall could be released in less than two years, after which he must serve five years of supervised probation after being released as part of the sentence handed down by Lee.

Cyheme Hall’s attorney, Jonathan Zucker, told Lee at the sentencing hearing that his client faces a possible sentence of nine years for a parole violation charge in connection with an unrelated burglary case in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Zucker said Hall was given a nine-year suspended sentence in the burglary case on the condition that he would not become involved in criminal activity during the time of his parole.

Lee declined a request by Zucker that Lee consider making a recommendation to the judge overseeing Hall’s parole violation case in Prince George’s County that the nine years be served concurrently with the seven years for the D.C. case.

Zucker said this means that it will be up to a Maryland judge to decide whether Cyheme Hall should serve up to nine years or less time in the Maryland case upon his release in the Dodds case.

The 2019 trial for Little and Johnson, meanwhile, ended with Judge Lee declaring a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Before the case went before the jury, prosecutors dropped their initial designation of the murder as a hate crime after Lee ruled in favor of a defense motion that there was insufficient evidence to prove a hate crime. Prosecutors said they filed the hate crime charge because they believe the men targeted Dodds because she was transgender.  

After initially saying they planned to request another trial on the murder charge, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office offered Little and Johnson a plea bargain deal, which they accepted, in which they pled guilty to a single count of voluntary manslaughter with the murder charge dropped.

The offer included a promise by prosecutors to ask for a sentence of eight years for the two men. Lee agreed to that request when he sentenced Little and Johnson to eight years last December.

Some LGBTQ activists have expressed concern that prosecutors should have pushed for a second trial for Johnson and Little. Activists have said reducing the charge from first degree murder to manslaughter sends a message that targeting members of the LGBTQ community for crimes of violence, especially trans women of color, can result in a lenient sentence of little more than a slapping of the wrist.

Attorneys familiar with criminal cases like this have said prosecutors sometimes offer a plea deal after determining that going to trial a second time could result in a not-guilty verdict based on the circumstances of the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Donovan, the lead prosecutor in the Dodds murder case, discussed prosecutors’ rationale for agreeing to a sentence of eight years for Little and Johnson during their sentencing hearing last December in response to a question from Lee asking whether the sentence was too lenient.     

“Your honor, we believe that this takes into consideration the first trial and the evidentiary difficulties that were highlighted during the first trial and other incidents that occurred during the first trial,” Donovan told Lee. She added that the impact of a sentence on the victim’s family and the community was also considered. “And we believe that taking all of that into consideration, that it is an appropriate sentence,” she said.

At his sentencing hearing on May 10, Cyheme Hall offered his apologies to the family of the victim and said he was deeply sorry for his role in the incident that took the life of Dodds.

In a written statement submitted to the court, Hall expressed his “deepest remorse” for his actions. “I know that no matter what I say or do, I cannot change what has happened but going forward I vow to dedicate the rest of my life righting my wrong,” he wrote. “I feel like I owe this to the victim as well as the family and my community.”

Lee thanked Hall for his statement but said he could not lower the sentence to six years, as requested by Hall’s attorney, nor could he ask the Maryland judge to consider a lower sentence for the parole violation.

“You did not have the strength to say no to this crime,” Lee told Hall. “You could have extricated yourself from this, but you didn’t. There are some things you can’t get out of,” Lee said. “It was shameful what you did.”

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District of Columbia

New D.C. LGBTQ+ bar Crush set to open April 19

An ‘all-inclusive entertainment haven,’ with dance floor, roof deck

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Crush (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s newest LGBTQ+ bar called Crush is scheduled to open for business at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 19, in a spacious, two-story building with a dance floor and roof deck at 2007 14th St., N.W. in one of the city’s bustling nightlife areas.

A statement released by co-owners Stephen Rutgers and Mark Rutstein earlier this year says the new bar will provide an atmosphere that blends “nostalgia with contemporary nightlife” in a building that was home to a popular music store and radio supply shop.

Rutgers said the opening comes one day after Crush received final approval of its liquor license that was transferred from the Owl Room, a bar that operated in the same building before closing Dec. 31 of last year. The official opening also comes three days after Crush hosted a pre-opening reception for family, friends, and community members on Tuesday, April 16.

Among those attending, Rutgers said, were officials with several prominent local LGBTQ organizations, including officials with the DC Center for the LGBTQ Community, which is located across the street from Crush in the city’s Reeves Center municipal building. Also attending were Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, and Salah Czapary, director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture.  

Rutgers said Crush plans to hold a grand opening event in a few weeks after he, Rutstein and the bar’s employees become settled into their newly opened operations.

“Step into a venue where inclusivity isn’t just a promise but a vibrant reality,” a statement posted on the Crush website says. “Imagine an all-inclusive entertainment haven where diversity isn’t just celebrated, it’s embraced as the very heartbeat of our venue,” the statement says. “Welcome to a place where love knows no bounds, and the only color or preference that matters is the vibrant tapestry of humanity itself. Welcome to Crush.”

The website says Crush will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m., Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Fridays from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m., Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 3 a.m., and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 12 a.m. It will be closed on Mondays.

Crush is located less than two blocks from the U Street Metro station.

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District of Columbia

Reenactment of first gay rights picket at White House draws interest of tourists

LGBTQ activists carry signs from historic 1965 protest

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About 30 LGBTQ activists formed a picket line in front of the White House April 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

About 30 LGBTQ activists formed a circular picket line in front of the White House Wednesday afternoon, April 17, carrying signs calling for an end to discrimination against “homosexuals” in a reenactment of the first gay rights protest at the White House that took place 59 years earlier on April 17, 1965.

Crowds of tourists looked on with interest as the activists walked back and forth in silence in front of the White House fence on Pennsylvania Avenue. Like the 1965 event, several of the men were dressed in suits and ties and the women in dresses in keeping with a 1960s era dress code policy for protests of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., the city’s first gay rights group that organized the 1965 event.

Wednesday’s reenactment was organized by D.C.’s Rainbow History Project, which made it clear that the event was not intended as a protest against President Joe Biden and his administration, which the group praised as a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights.

“I think this was an amazing event,” said Vincent Slatt, the Rainbow History Project official who led efforts to put on the event. “We had twice as many that we had hoped for that came today,” he said.

“It was so great to see a reenactment and so great to see how far we’ve come,” Slatt said. “And also, the acknowledgement of what else we still need to do.”

Slatt said participants in the event who were not carrying picket signs handed out literature explaining the purpose of the event.

A flier handed out by participants noted that among the demands of the protesters at the 1965 event were to end the ban on homosexuals from working in the federal government, an end to the ban on gays serving in the military, an end to the denial of security clearances for gays, and an end of the government’s refusal to meet with the LGBTQ community. 

“The other thing that I think is really, really moving is some of the gay staff inside the White House found out this was happening and came out to greet us,” Slatt said. He noted that this highlighted how much has changed since 1965, when then President Lyndon Johnson’s White House refused to respond to a letter sent to Johnson from the Mattachine Society explaining its grievances. 

“So now to have gay people in the White House coming out to give us their respects and to say hello was especially meaningful to us,” Slatt said. “That was not expected today.”

Among those walking the picket line was longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate Paul Kuntzler, who is the only known surviving person who was among the White House picketers at the April 1965 event. Kuntzler said he proudly carried a newly printed version of the sign at Wednesday’s reenactment event that he carried during the 1965 protest. It stated, “Fifteen Million Homosexuals Protest Federal Treatment.”  

Also participating in the event was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Bowles presented Slatt with a proclamation issued by Bowser declaring April 17, 2024, Mattachine Society Day in Washington, D.C.

“Whereas, on April 17, 1965, the Mattachine Society of Washington courageously held the nation’s inaugural picket for gay rights, a seminal moment in the ongoing struggle for LGBTQIA+ equality in the United States, marking the genesis of public demonstrations advocating for those rights and paving the way for Pride Marches and Pride celebrations worldwide,” the proclamation states.

About 30 minutes after the reenactment event began, uniformed Secret Service agents informed Slatt that due to a security issue the picketers would have to move off the sidewalk in front of the White House and resume the picketing across the street on the sidewalk in front of Lafayette Park. When asked by the Washington Blade what the security issue was about, one of the Secret Service officers said he did not have any further details other than that his superiors informed him that the White House sidewalk would have to be temporarily cleared of all people.

Participants in the event quickly resumed their picket line on the sidewalk in front of Lafayette Park for another 30 minutes or so in keeping with the 1965 picketing event, which lasted for one hour, from 4:20 p.m. to 5:20 p.m., according to Rainbow  History Project’s research into the 1965 event.

Although the LGBTQ picketers continued their procession in silence, a separate protest in Lafayette Park a short distance from the LGBTQ picketers included speakers shouting through amplified speakers. The protest was against the government of Saudi Arabia and organized by a Muslim group called Al Baqee Organization.

A statement released by the Rainbow History Project says the reenactment event, among other things, was a tribute to D.C.-area lesbian rights advocate Lilli Vincenz, who participated in the 1965 White House picketing, and D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, who founded the Mattachine Society of Washington in the early 1960s and was the lead organizer of the 1965 White House protest. Kameny died in 2011 and Vincenz died in 2023.

The picket signs carried by participants in the reenactment event, which were reproduced from the 1965 event, had these messages:

• “DISCRIMINATION Against Homosexuals is as immoral as Discrimination Against Negroes and Jews;”

• “Government Should Combat Prejudice NOT PROMOTE IT”

• “White House Refuses Replies to Our Letters, AFRAID OF US?

• “HOMOSEXUALS Died for their Country, Too”

• “First Class Citizenship for HOMOSEXUALS”

• “Sexual Preference is Irrelevant to Employment”

• “Fifteen Million U.S. Homosexuals Protest Federal Treatment”

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District of Columbia

Organizers announce details for D.C. Black Pride 2024

Most events to take place Memorial Day weekend at Westin Downtown

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Black Pride 2024 details were announced this week. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Center for Black Equity, the organizer of D.C. Black Pride, the nation’s first and one of the largest annual African-American LGBTQ Pride celebrations, announced this year’s event will take place Memorial Day Weekend from May 24-27.

The announcement, released April 16, says that most 2024 D.C. Black Pride events will take place at the Westin Washington, D.C. Downtown Hotel at 999 9th St, N.W.

“With the theme Black Pride Forever, the event promises a weekend filled with vibrant celebrations, empowering workshops, and a deep exploration of Black LGBTQIA+ history and culture,” the announcement says.

It says events will include as in past years a “Rainbow Row” vendor expo at the hotel featuring “organizations and vendors created for and by the LGBTQIA+ community” offering products and services “that celebrate Black excellence.”

According to the announcement, other events include a Health and Wellness Festival that will offer workshops, demonstrations, and activities focused on “holistic well-being;” a Mary Bowman Poetry Slam “showcasing the power and beauty of spoken word by Black LGBTQIA+ artists;” the Black Pride Through the Decades Party, that will celebrate the “rich history of the Black LGBTQIA+ movement;” and an Empowerment Through Knowledge series of workshops that “delve into various topics relevant to the Black LGBTQIA+ community.”

Also, as in past years, this year’s D.C. Black Pride will feature its “Opening Night Extravaganza” reception and party that will include entertainment and live performances.

The announcement notes that D.C.’s annual Black Pride celebration, started in 1991 as a one-day outdoor event at Howard University’s Banneker Field, has inspired annual Black LGBTQ Pride events across the United States and in Canada, United Kingdom, Brazil, Africa, and the Caribbean. More than 300,000 people attend Black LGBTQ Pride events each year worldwide, the announcement says.

Full details, including the official schedule of events, can be accessed at dcblackpride.org.

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