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Critics say police botched investigation into mysterious death of Washington Wizards chef

Partner raises concerns after Ernest Newkirk failed to return home from Black Pride party



Ernest Terrell Newkirk was found dead on a D.C. street in May.

Ernest Terrell Newkirk, 55, recently worked for several years as a chef at D.C.’s Capital One Arena for the Washington Wizards basketball team and operated a home-based landscaping and lawn care business in Southeast D.C., according to his domestic partner of 21 years, Roger Turpin.

On Saturday evening, May 27 of this year, Newkirk drove from his home to attend a Black Pride dance party held at the Ugly Mug bar and lounge in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill, Turpin told the Washington Blade.

Turpin said Newkirk was looking forward to attending a Black Pride picnic two days later as part of the D.C. Black Pride LGBTQ celebration held each year during Memorial Day weekend.

At about 12:30 a.m. on May 28, Newkirk called his partner on his cell phone to say he was leaving the Ugly Mug Black Pride event and would soon be on his way home in his car to the couple’s house at 19 Anacostia Rd., N.E., Turpin said.

At around 2:30 a.m. when Newkirk had not arrived home Turpin became worried and tried calling him, but Newkirk did not answer his partner’s repeated calls. This prompted Turpin a short time later to call D.C. police to file a missing person’s report, Turpin recounted in a phone interview with the Blade.

It took another two days for police to inform Turpin that Newkirk was found deceased on a residential street in the 1100 block of 46th Place, S.E. shortly after 3 a.m. on May 28. Turpin said police told him they could not immediately identify Newkirk because he was found with no identification.

At the time he was found, Turpin points out, Newkirk’s wallet, iPhone, watch, jewelry, and his car, a 2017 Chevrolet Camaro convertible, were all missing. And on May 30, two days after his initially unidentified body was found, Newkirk’s Chevy Camaro was found about a mile from where the body was found, parked behind a small apartment building at 5024 Call Place, S.E., a police report says.

Turpin said a detective from the D.C. police Homicide Branch told him the cause of death appeared to be a heart attack, but the detective provided no explanation of how that determination was made.

D.C. police spokesperson Paris Lewbel told the Blade an autopsy has determined there were no signs of trauma on Newkirk’s body and police have ruled out a homicide in the case. And “thus far, we have no evidence of foul play,” Lewbel said in an email message.

A spokesperson for the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told the Blade that the office has yet to determine the cause and manner of death and would not be able to make that determination until pending chemical and toxicology tests are completed.

“This case remains under investigation by MPD,” spokesperson Lewbel told the Blade in his July 12 email. “We continue to investigate and monitor for a decision from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner,” Lewbel wrote. “Our next move will be guided by the cause and manner of death determination.”

Turpin, however, said he is troubled over the statement by police that no signs of “foul play” appear to be involved in a case that he believes should be investigated as a carjacking.

He said he’s also troubled over what he believes to be a lack of interest by the detective in looking into how his partner ended up on the street where he was found, what happened to his car, and what happened to his missing property, including his wallet and phone.

According to Turpin, Newkirk’s bank contacted him to say someone attempted to withdraw funds using Newkirk’s ATM card, prompting the bank to put a hold on the card. Turpin said he learned from Newkirk’s phone records that calls were made on the phone after Newkirk’s disappearance and Turpin has the phone numbers to which the calls were made.

He said the detective declined his offer to provide the phone numbers to the police so that the calls might be traced and the person or persons who took possession of Newkirk’s phone and other belongings might be identified.

Turpin said he received in the mail several traffic tickets, including speeding tickets and failure-to-stop-at-red-light tickets, associated with Newkirk’s car at the time it was missing. One of the tickets was from Maryland, said Turpin. He said D.C. police were not interested in tracking down the tickets to try to identify the person or persons he believes stole Newkirk’s car, most likely in a carjacking.

As if all that were not enough, Turpin said D.C. police also declined his request to look for fingerprints on or inside the car in a further effort to identify who took possession of the car.

“They never looked for fingerprints or anything,” he told the Blade. “So, I wore gloves when I got it out,” he said, referring to his taking possession of the car from an impoundment lot where it had been for more than a month. He said he had to obtain documents to show he oversaw Newkirk’s estate and had legal possession of the car.

“And when I got it out, I saw that somebody left their book bag in the car,” Turpin said. “And the police didn’t even look and see what it was.”

Turpin, who’s certain the bag did not belong to Newkirk, said he left it untouched in the back seat of the car, with the hope that D.C. police will take it as part of their claim to continue to investigate the case.

In response to a Blade inquiry, Vito Maggiolo, a spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, said an ambulance was dispatched to the address of 1131 46th Place, S.E. at 3:17 a.m. on May 28 in response to a call about an unconscious person on the street who was later identified as Newkirk.

A D.C. police incident report says the unconscious person was first observed by someone walking by who the report said was performing CPR on the unconscious person until police arrived and took over attempting to revive the then unidentified male.

“MPD Officer took over CPR until D.C. Fire/EMS arrived,” the police report says. “After all attempts at life saving measures, Subject 1 was pronounced dead on the scene,” the report says.

Turpin said he has no idea how or why Newkirk was found on that street. The Blade visited the street last week during the day. The address in front of where Newkirk was found unconscious is a small two-family brick duplex house on a quiet street lined with mostly suburban style small to medium-sized, single-framed houses, well-maintained and many with front lawns and patios.

Among those who knew Newkirk from his and Turpin’s neighborhood was Tyrell Holcomb, the chairperson of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7F, which includes the areas where Newkirk’s body and car were found.

Holcomb told the Blade Newkirk was one of his early supporters when he first ran for election as an ANC commissioner. He said in 2019, Newkirk volunteered his services as a cook for a large outdoor community event that drew more than 2,000 people.

“I will forever be grateful for his contribution to our community,” said Holcomb. “So, for me, I’m frustrated at the pace at which MPD is moving on this. There doesn’t seem to be an urgency surrounding it.”

A printed program book for a memorial service held for Newkirk on June 10 at D.C.’s Shining Star Church says Newkirk was born and raised in Clinton, N.C., and graduated from Clinton High School before attending a culinary arts school in Virginia. The program write-up says he was a certified chef and “served the Washington Wizards for eight years.” It says he was also a Certified Nurse Assistant and the owner-operator of Newkirk Lawn Care.

“He loved his family. He was a ‘social butterfly’ who enjoyed listening to music and attending/hosting parties,” the write-up says. “Cooking and making people happy were his favorite pastimes.”

D.C. police have said that anyone with information related to an unsolved crime should call police at 202-727-9099.


District of Columbia

Dignity Washington holds Catholic mass in honor of woman priest

LGBTQ group celebrates its support for ordination of women priests



Rev. Ann Penick, center, performs mass on Sunday, Sept. 24 for members and friends of the DC LGBTQ Catholic group Dignity Washington. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The D.C. LGBTQ Catholic group Dignity Washington says it dedicated its weekly Catholic mass on Sunday, Sept. 24, to honor a woman priest who has served as one of its priests since 2017 in a gesture of support for the women’s priest movement.

“This Mass commemorates the ordination of Ann Penick as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest and celebrates the invaluable contributions of women who have served the church in various capacities,” the group said in a statement.

“Rev. Ann Penick’s ordination as a Catholic priest, and the ordination of female priests like her, represents a step forward in the Catholic Church’s ongoing journey towards greater inclusivity and recognition of diverse vocations within its ranks,” the statement says. “Dignity Washington is deeply honored to support her ministry and those of other women priests,” it says.

The fact that the Dignity mass in honor of Rev. Penick, who presided over the mass, and all of its weekly Sunday masses are held at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church near Dupont Circle highlights the fact that the official Catholic church recognizes neither Dignity nor women priests.

Dignity, a nationwide LGBTQ Catholic group with chapters across the country, is banned from holding any of its masses in Catholic Churches.

Penick told the Washington Blade in an interview the week prior to her saying the Dignity Mass on Sept. 24 that she was ordained as a priest in June 2011 by a woman bishop associated with a breakaway Catholic organization, the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The organization was formed shortly after three male Roman Catholic Bishops ordained the first known women priests on a ship sailing along the Danube River in Europe in June 2002.

Two of the bishops who publicly disclosed their decision to ordain the women were excommunicated by Catholic Church officials at the Vatican in Rome. The third bishop acted anonymously and is believed to be continuing to serve as a bishop.

One of these bishops subsequently ordained female bishops who, in turn, began ordaining other women Catholic priests in Europe and in the U.S.

Information posted on the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests website says it and others associated with the women priest movement believe the ordination of women bishops and priests is valid under the biblical concept of ‘apostolic succession.”

Under that concept, the spiritual authority that Jesus bestowed on his original apostles has been handed down to subsequent generations of clergy, and the ordained women bishops and priests can pass that spiritual authority on to other female clergy.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, which oversees Catholic churches in D.C. and parts of Maryland, did not respond to a request by the Blade for comment on the women’ priest movement.

Penick, who is married and has two stepchildren with her husband, points out that the women’s priest movement has also broken with the official church over the longstanding church requirement that priests practice celibacy and cannot marry.

“The Roman Catholic women’s priest movement sees celibacy as a personal calling,” Penick told the Blade. “If a woman is personally called to celibacy, she follows that call,” Penick said. “But a woman can also be married and have children, and that’s always been a vision of the Roman Catholic Women’s priest movement.”

Penick notes that it was not until the early 1100s that the church put in place a celibacy requirement for its priests.

She has been active in the Catholic Church for most of her life in several states where she has lived and worked. She received a certification in lay ministry from the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala. in 1993, a master’s in counseling degree from the University of Birmingham in 1995, and a master’s in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College in 2008.

She and her family currently live in Alexandria, Va., and she currently works as a mental health counselor at the Counseling and Psychological Services department at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Penick said while living in Maryland she served as a priest for Living Water Inclusive Catholic Community in Catonsville, and currently serves as a priest for the D.C. Living Family Mass Community in D.C. as well as serving as one of Dignity Washington’s rotating priests.

“We are so lucky to have her,” said Dignity Washington former president Daniel Barutta, who noted that Penick and her husband are Dignity members. “She’s just a shining star for women,” he said. “And we really hope that Dignity Washington is leading the church, showing the church which direction to go in terms of empowering women and having them as our spiritual leaders.”

Barutta said Penick has joined the Dignity Washington contingent in D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride parade and the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and has led Dignity prayer services on various occasions.

Peter Edwards, Dignity Washington’s vice president, said following its Sunday mass that the organization “certainly does affirm that women can serve as priests in our community.” Edwards added, “We had a wonderful congregation tonight for a mass in celebration of Rev. Ann.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of the Mount Rainier, Md., based LGBTQ Catholic advocacy organization New Ways Ministry, said she believes the fully approved ordination of women priests in the Catholic Church will someday happen.

“There is no theological reason, only cultural ones, why women have not been ordained priests,” she said in referring to the official church. “I believe that a Catholic organization that ordains women priests is living out their sincere and deep-seated beliefs and preparing the wider community for what will eventually come to pass,’ she said.

“Not all arrive at the destination at the same time, and I admire those with the courage of their convictions who lead the way,” she added.

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District of Columbia

Activists, policy makers mark Celebrate Bisexual Day in D.C.

BiPlus Organizing US hosted event at HRC



Adrian Shanker, senior advisor for LGBTQI+ health equity in the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, speaks at a Bisexual Awareness Day event at the Human Rights Campaign on Sept. 23, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Cal Benn)

BiPlus Organizing US on Saturday hosted a Celebrate Bisexual Day event at the Human Rights Campaign.

Fiona Dawson, co-founder of BiPlus Organizing US, and Mélanie Snail, committee member of the organization, emceed the event. HRC Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Rebecca Hershey welcomed attendees. 

Heyshey discussed her journey as a bisexual, mixed race, Jewish woman. Hershey paraphrased Adrienne Maree Brown, stating “change is coming, we are creating change.” 

PFLAG Learning and Inclusion Manager Mackenzie Harte gave a presentation on the history of bisexual identities, defined terms surrounding gender and sexuality and went over statistics of discrimination and health disparities that bisexual individuals face.

Harte’s presentation noted 48 percent of bisexual individuals reported an annual income of less than $30,000, compared to 30 percent of gay men, 39 percent of lesbians and 28 percent of all adults in the U.S. 

Harte went on to say 28 percent of bisexual students report having attempted suicide; and bisexual people have a higher risk of mood disorders, substance abuse and mental illness than their lesbian, gay, or straight cohorts. Bisexual people of all genders face higher rates of sexual assault than those same peers. One reason for these statistics is isolation: 39 percent of bisexual men and 33 percent of bisexual women report not being out to any health care provider, and only 44 percent of bisexual youth report having an adult they could turn to if they were sad. 

Harte also spoke about the Bisexual Manifesto, which the Bay Area Bisexual Network wrote in 1990. 

“The bisexual manifesto very intentionally was not binary,” Harte said.

They said the text works against the stigma and stereotypes that claim bisexuality is confined to “male, female.” 

Tania Israel, a bisexual advocate and psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, shared some of her bisexual haikus, which she calls, “bikus.”

Dawson moderated the next panel.

Panelists included Nicole Holmes, a bisexual advocate and public health professional, National Center for Transgender Equality Communications Director Leroy Thomas and NCTE Policy Counsel Kris Tassone. 

The panel talked about how shame and stigma drive the statistics that negatively impact the bisexual community. Another word that came up as a driving force was “intersectionality.” 

Holmes said that when it comes to intersectionality, it’s important to not just “list identities,” but to look deep into “the purpose behind why we are talking about intersectional identities” in the first place.

Adrian Shanker, senior advisor on LGBTQ+ Health Equity for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about health equity for the bisexual community. 

“Striving for health equity remains a core priority. It also remains an unmet dream,” said Shanker. “Queer people have always had to be our own health advocates.” While health equity may not be here yet, Shanker says there is much in the works for the LGBTQ community, bisexuals specifically. 

Shanker cited a National Cancer Institute funding opportunity that invites research proposals to cancer care for sexual and gender minorities, stating bisexual specific proposals are welcome. The impending potential government shutdown may postpone it. 

The Biden-Harris administration is also working to ban so-called conversion therapy at the federal level. Additionally, 988, the national suicide prevention hotline, began a program to offer specialized support for LGBTQ youth and young adults last year. 

Shanker said bisexual people should prioritize preventative screenings for skin cancer, oral cancer, lung cancer, regular cervical and anal pap tests, mammograms, prostate exams and colonoscopies. 

“If you have a body part, get it screened,” said Shanker. 

Megan Townsend, senior director of entertainment research and analysis for the GLAAD Media Institute, did a presentation on bisexual representation in the media and opportunities for advancement. 

 “I want to see bi+/pan colors displayed on the White House,” said Dawson. “I want every national LGBTQIA+ organization to be talking about us, to put our concerns front and center.”

The data presented can be found here.

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District of Columbia

Whitman-Walker celebrates opening of new Max Robinson Center

Mayor, city officials call facility major benefit for Southeast D.C.



D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser cut a ceremonial ribbon on Monday to mark the official opening of Whitman-Walker’s new Max Robinson Center. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, joined by city officials and leaders of Whitman-Walker Health, cut a ceremonial ribbon on Monday to mark the official opening of Whitman-Walker’s new Max Robinson Center at the city’s St. Elizabeth’s East campus in Southeast D.C.

The six-story healthcare and research facility will enable Whitman-Walker to expand its wide range of services to the community, with a focus on Ward 7 and Ward 8 residents, officials said. Those services, which began when the facility opened its doors on Aug. 14, include primary, dental, and HIV care, behavioral health services, substance use counseling, and a pharmacy, according to a Whitman-Walker statement.

“Today, we’re opening a bigger Max Robinson Center, and in two years we’ll be opening a new hospital on this same campus – and together, these two facilities are going to change the way we deliver healthcare in D.C.,” Bowser told the crowd of about 200 that turned out for the event held in a courtyard next to the newly opened building.

“We’re incredibly grateful that Whitman-Walker is part of the legacy that we’re building on the St. Elizabeths East campus,” the mayor said. “This campus represents our commitment to Ward 8 and our community to a stronger, healthier, and equitable D.C.”

Whitman-Walker and city officials noted that the new building replaces the longtime LGBTQ supportive health care organization’s original Max Robinson Center that opened in 1993 on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Anacostia about a mile away from the new facility. The center was named in honor of award-winning TV news journalist Max Robinson who became the first African American to serve as co-anchor of a network news program at ABC News in 1978. Robinson died of complications associated with HIV/AIDS in 1988.

Bowser and others who spoke at the event praised Whitman-Walker for providing high quality healthcare through its Max Robinson center for underserved communities in city neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

The opening of the new Max Robinson Center comes on Whitman-Walker’s 50th year since its founding in 1973 as an LGBTQ community health clinic in a church basement in Georgetown, Whitman-Walker CEO Naseema Shafi noted at the ribbon cutting event.

“We are thrilled to unveil this once-in-a-lifetime healthcare and research expansion during our 50th anniversary year,” Shafi said. “Our new healthcare home will significantly improve access to excellent healthcare for all residents,” she said.

Among other things, the new facility will allow Whitman-Walker to serve an additional 10,000 patients per year more than it was able to serve at the original Max Robinson Center, a statement released by Whitman-Walker says. An important part of its services will include mental health and behavioral services, officials said.

There are more than 40 exam rooms, eight dental suites, six group therapy rooms and a psychotherapy suite in the new facility, the officials said in the statement.

The statement says the new building will also serve as headquarters for the Whitman-Walker Institute, an arm of the healthcare organization that for many years has conducted HIV related research. It says the new facility will allow Whitman-Walker to expand its research “from 19 to over 60 clinical trials, including innovations in cancer research and continued progress toward finding a cure for HIV.”

Others who attended or spoke at the event included D.C. Council members Christina Henderson (I-At-Large), Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7); Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs; Latrena Owens, executive director of St. Elizabeths East Development; and Debrah Wells, a Whitman-Walker patient who said the substance use treatment and counseling she received at the Max Robinson Center “saved my life.”

Also speaking were Louis Dubin, managing partner of Redbrick development company, which led the development of the building project; and Jim Davis, president of Davis Construction, the company that built the new facility. Both pointed out that they worked with banks and other lenders along with financial support from the city that made the financing of the new Max Robinson Center possible.

Whitman-Walker CEO Shafi told the Washington Blade after the ribbon cutting event that while Whitman-Walker has expanded its services to include the wider community in the years since its founding as an LGBTQ clinic, its commitment to serving the healthcare needs of the LGBTQ community continues in all its facilities, including the new Max Robinson Center.

“What’s interesting about Whitman-Walker of today — when we started in 1973, we were started by community for community, and we were responding to the needs at that time particularly of the LGBTQ community,” she said. “So, now we’ve continued to take care of people, we will continue to do so,” she added.

“And this new site in Congress Heights gives us the opportunity to take care of even more community members, parts of the LGBTQ community and the greater Washington region,” she said, noting that Whitman-Walker currently has about 2,500 transgender or gender expansive people in care, and 3,500 people with HIV in care.

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