MPD Updates Stein Club on Anti-LGBT Crimes

Newsham promises vigilance in pursuing crimes, but says bias motivation very difficult to prove

By John Riley
Published on March 20, 2012, 4:58pm | Comments

Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Chief Peter Newsham and Capt. Edward Delgado of MPD's Special Liaison Unit, which includes the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU), assured concerned community members that police would be vigilant in investigating and closing cases involving crimes against LGBT individuals. The officers addressed the March 19 meeting of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club at the John A. Wilson Building, D.C.'s city hall.

Newsham updated those in attendance on three recent crimes against members of the LGBT community that resulted in the hospitalization of the victims for their injuries. He also pledged the department's dedication to aggressively pursuing and closing similar crimes.

The first incident, a shooting, occurred around 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 11, at the IHOP restaurant at 3100 14th St. NW. According to police reports, a group of three suspects repeatedly harassed the victim and his companions with homophobic slurs, before one suspect began fighting with the victim, with the two exchanging several punches. In the ensuing fight, the victim was shot and the suspects fled the scene. The victim was transported to Washington MedStar Hospital with ''serious'' injuries to his abdomen and liver, and was released a few days later.

Newsham told the audience at Stein that MPD officers believe they have identified ''nearly everyone'' involved in the IHOP shooting, and are not going to release video of the suspects because they feel releasing such footage would not help, and might actually harm, the investigation.

In the second incident, which occurred on Georgia Avenue NW, between Morton and Irving Streets, at 9:30 p.m. Monday, March 12, a gay male was beaten by a group who shouted homophobic slurs before robbing him of his iPod, iPad, keys and various cards.

Newsham told the Stein Club that although the robbery seems to be the primary motive in that case, there is some evidence to suggest there was bias-related motivation. Newsham said releasing video of that attack may also not help police.

In the third attack, which occurred at 11:50 p.m. Monday, March 12, a transgender woman was attacked, assaulted and beaten unconscious near the intersection of Mount Olivet Road NE and West Virginia Avenue NE. The woman was hospitalized for a concussion suffered in the attack. The police report for that incident has not yet been released.

Newsham told Stein that there is no video in the case of the transgender attack, but there is also no evidence of prejudice or bias. Transgender activist Earline Budd told Metro Weekly March 19 that the woman was not robbed in the attack.

Newsham told the Stein Club that police officers often try to determine whether there was a bias motivation for a crime so the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia can decide whether to pursue enhanced charges in prosecuting such crimes. However, Newsham said, it is very difficult to prove a person's motive or intent in committing a crime.

''For criminal investigations, one of the most difficult things to prove is what's occurring in somebody's mind,'' Newsham said. ''Bias and bigotry is extremely difficult to prove … because bigots will mask that, will hide it so they don't get charged with these enhanced penalties.''

Newsham also told the audience, which included several activists who have been critical of MPD's handling of cases involving LGBT victims, that people should report incidents where they believe a crime may be bias-related, or where police have not taken appropriate action to investigate or pursue crimes suspected to be bias-related.

''For government actors, police officers, firefighters, [emergency medical technicians], those people can be held accountable for that behavior,'' Newsham said. ''I can tell you the leadership of the Metropolitan Police Department doesn't want have that in our agency. I'm not going to tell you it doesn't exist. I'm not stupid. But to the extent you can let us know about it, we will address it. We do not want to tolerate that from the people who work for the Metropolitan Police Department.''

Local transgender activist Jeri Hughes asked Newsham about equal treatment and pursuit of murders over the past decade involving transgender victims. Newsham said MPD Chief Cathy Lanier had given the U.S. Attorney's Office documents to review to see if investigators had missed anything on three ''cold cases'' involving transgender murder victims, and that the U.S. Attorney's Office had not found any evidence to suggest that was the case.

But Hughes and others countered, saying the closure rate for transgender murders lags behind the closure rate for all homicides in the District. Newsham responded that such statistics are hard to compare due to the relatively small number of transgender murders over the past few years.

Budd broached the idea of re-circulating photographs and informational posters from unsolved cases involving transgender women in hopes of developing new leads. Newsham said he'd have no objection to doing so.