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District of Columbia

D.C. Trans woman’s killers could be free in 3 years in a plea deal

“A plea bargain from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter is a miscarriage of justice”

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Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds was killed on July 4, 2016. (Photo via Facebook)

WASHINGTON – A D.C. LGBTQ anti-violence group will be submitting a community impact statement for a D.C. Superior Court judge scheduled to sentence two men on Dec. 10 for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds in a case D.C. police listed as a hate crime.

Stephania Mahdi, chair of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s Anti-Violence Project, told the Washington Blade the project has been in contact with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C., which is prosecuting the case against the two defendants set to be sentenced this week, to arrange for the submission of a statement on the impact the murder of Dodds has had on the community.

The impact statement would also apply to the sentencing of two other men charged in the Dodds murder case who are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 20.

The Dec. 10 sentencing for Jolonta Little, 30, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, was set to take place a little over two months after Little and Johnson pleaded guilty on Sept. 30 to a single count of voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.

In exchange for the guilty plea for voluntary manslaughter, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to drop the charge of first-degree murder while armed originally brought against the two men. The plea agreement also called for dropping additional charges against them in connection with the Dodds murder, including robbery while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and unlawful possession of a firearm.

In addition, the plea agreement includes a promise by prosecutors to ask D.C. Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee, who is presiding over the case, to issue a sentence of eight years in prison for both men. Under the D.C. criminal code, a conviction on a voluntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Johnson has been held without bond for five years and three months since his arrest in the Dodds case in September 2016. Little has been held without bond since his arrest for the Dodds murder in February 2017. Courthouse observers say that judges almost always give defendants credit for time served prior to their sentencing, a development that would likely result in the two men being released in about three years.

The plea deal for the two men came two and a half years after a D.C. Superior Court jury became deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charges against Johnson and Little following a month-long trial, prompting Judge Lee to declare a mistrial on March 6, 2019.

The two other men charged in Dodds’ murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain offer by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial in which they pled guilty to second-degree murder. Both testified at Johnson and Little’s the trial as government witnesses.

In dramatic testimony, Cyheme Hall told the jury that it was Johnson who fatally shot Dodds in the neck at point blank range after he said she grabbed the barrel of Johnson’s handgun as Johnson and Hall attempted to rob her on Division Ave., N.E., near where she lived. Hall testified that the plan among the four men to rob Dodds did not include the intent to kill her.

In his testimony, Hall said that on the day of Dodd’s murder, he and the other three men made plans to commit armed robberies for cash in areas of D.C. where trans women, some of whom were sex workers, congregated. He testified that the four men got into a car driven by Little and searched the streets for victims they didn’t expect to offer resistance.

D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office initially designated the murder charge against Little and Johnson as an anti-trans hate crime offense based on findings by homicide detectives that the men were targeting trans women for armed robberies. But during Johnson and Little’s trial, Judge Lee dismissed the hate crime designation at the request of defense attorneys on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support a hate crime designation.

At the request of prosecutors, Judge Lee scheduled a second trial for Johnson and Little on the murder charge for Feb. 25, 2020. But court records show the trial date was postponed to June 22, 2020, and postponed several more times – to Jan 11, 2021, and later to Feb. 17, 2022, due to COVID-related restrictions before the plea bargain offer was agreed to in September of this year.  The public court records do not show why the trial was postponed the first few times prior to the start of COVID restrictions on court proceedings.

Legal observers have said long delays in trials, especially murder trials, often make it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain a conviction because memories of key witnesses sometimes become faulty several years after a crime was committed.

“The D.C. Anti-Violence Project is disappointed to hear about the unfortunate proceedings in the case to bring justice for Dee Dee Dodds,” Mahdi, the Anti-Violence Project’s chair, told the Blade in a statement.

“A plea bargain from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter as well as a reduction of years in sentencing from 30 to 8 communicates not only a miscarriage of justice, but a message of penalization for victims who attempt to protect themselves during a violent assault,” Mahdi said. “The continual impact of reducing the culpability of perpetrators who target members of specifically identified communities sends a malicious message to criminals that certain groups of people are easier targets with lenient consequences,” she said.

“As a result of this pattern, the D.C. community has failed to defend the life and civil rights of Dee Dee Dodds and leaves criminally targeted LGBTQ+ community and other cultural identity communities critically undervalued by stewards of justice in the nation’s capital,” Mahdi concluded.  

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has declined to disclose the reason why prosecutors decided to offer Johnson and Little the plea bargain deal rather than petition the court for a second trial for the two men on the first-degree murder charge.

Attorneys familiar with cases like this, where a jury becomes deadlocked, have said prosecutors sometimes decide to offer a plea deal rather than go to trial again out of concern that another jury could find a defendant not guilty on all charges.

During the trial, defense attorneys told the jury that the Hall brothers were habitual liars and there were inconsistencies in their testimony. They argued that the Halls’ motives were aimed strictly at saying what prosecutors wanted them to say so they could get off with a lighter sentence.

The two prosecutors participating in the trial disputed those claims, arguing that government witnesses provided strong evidence that Johnson and Little should be found guilty of first-degree murder and other related charges.

Before the jury announced it was irreconcilably deadlocked on the murder charges, the jury announced it found Little not guilty of seven separate counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and found Johnson not guilty of five counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.

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District of Columbia

Plea bargain in DC Trans murder case results in 8 year prison term

Under D.C. law, a conviction on a charge of voluntary manslaughter carries a possible maximum sentence of 30 years

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Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds (Facebook)

WASHINGTON – A D.C. Superior Court judge on Friday sentenced two of four men originally charged with first-degree murder while armed for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds on a street in Northeast Washington to eight years in jail and five years of supervised probation upon their release.

The sentence by Judge Milton C. Lee came a little over two months after Jalonta Little, 31, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, agreed through their attorneys to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors allowing them to plead guilty to a single count of voluntary manslaughter in exchange for the murder charge and related gun violation charges to be dropped.

The plea agreement included a promise by prosecutors with the Office of the United States Attorney for D.C. to ask the judge for a sentence of eight years incarceration. Under D.C. law, a conviction on a charge of voluntary manslaughter carries a possible maximum sentence of 30 years.

As expected by court observers, Lee gave Little and Johnson full credit for the time they have already served in jail since their arrest. Johnson has been held without bond for five years and six months since his arrest in the Dodds case in September 2016. Little has been held for four years and 10 months since the time of his arrest in February 2017.

Lee also agreed to a request by prosecutors to issue a court stay away order prohibiting Johnson and Little from going to the areas where they targeted Dodds and other trans women for armed robberies on the night of Dodds’ murder. Their targeting of trans women, some of whom were sex workers, prompted D.C. police to list the Dodds murder as a hate crime, a designation that was dropped by Lee during the 2019 trial on grounds of insufficient evidence.

Lee sentenced Johnson to an additional 150 days in jail for an unrelated charge, to which he pled guilty, of Attempted Unlawful Possession of Contraband into a Penal Institution. Court records show that Johnson and another inmate at the D.C. jail were charged in September of this year with actual possession of the illegal contraband after the two stabbed each other with make-shift, knife-like objects while fighting.

Court records show Johnson was treated at a hospital for multiple, non-life threatening stab wounds in connection with the incident. Prosecutors agreed to lower the charge to attempted possession of unlawful contraband in exchange for Johnson’s agreement to plead guilty. Lee ordered that the additional sentence for Johnson of 150 days must be carried out consecutively to the 8-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

Both Lee and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Donovan, the lead prosecutor in the case, pointed out that Friday’s sentencing followed a March 2019 trial for Little and Johnson on the first-degree murder charges in the Dodds case that ended in a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the murder charges.

At the request of prosecutors, another trial for Little and Johnson on the murder was scheduled a short time later, but for reasons not disclosed in the public court records, the second trial was postponed several times and eventually cancelled after the plea bargain agreement was reached in September of this year.

The two other men charged in the Dodds murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain offer by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial for Johnson and Little in which they pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. They each testified as government witnesses at Johnson and Little’s trial, with Cyheme Hall testifying that it was Johnson who fatally shot Dodds in the neck at point blank range after she attempted to fight back when he and Johnson attempted to rob her.

Similar to Johnson and Little, the Hall brothers have been held without bond since the time of their arrests. They are schooled to be sentenced on Dec. 20.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not publicly disclosed why they chose to offer the plea deal rather than bring Little and Johnson to trial again on the murder charge. Attorneys familiar with criminal cases have said prosecutors sometime offer a plea deal after determining that going to trail a second time could result in a not-guilty verdict based on the circumstances of the case.

Lee raised this issue in Friday’s sentencing hearing when he asked prosecutor Donovan to explain the recommendation of an 8-year prison sentence rather than a longer one.

“Obviously, an individual lost their life during the circumstances that gave rise to the charge here in the first trial that we had,” Lee told Donovan. “Can you tell me why, from the government’s perspective, do you think this particular sentence here agreed upon by the parties — eight years — do you think it’s an appropriate sentence under the circumstances that we’re aware of?” Lee asked.

“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. “And that taking everything into consideration and considering the goal of sentencing obviously is to address the family and the community by trying to cross the sentence against the facts and circumstances in a particular case,” Donovan said. “And we believe that taking all of that into consideration that it is an appropriate sentence.”

Prior to handing down his sentence, Lee also mentioned that he received a community impact statement on the Dodds murder from the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s Anti-Violence Project. The attorneys representing Little and Johnson said their clients saw the community impact statement. Neither of them raised any objections to the statement. The statement was not read or released at the hearing.

The Anti-Violence Project had not responded to a request by the Washington Blade last week for a copy of the statement as of the time of Friday’s hearing.

In a separate statement provided to the Blade last week, Anti-Violence Project Chair Stephania Mahdi expressed strong objections to the terms of the plea bargain offer by prosecutors.

“A plea bargain from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter as well as a reduction of years in sentencing from 30 to eight communicates not only a miscarriage of justice, but a message of penalization for victims who attempt to protect themselves during a violent assault,” Mahdi said. “The continual impact of reducing the culpability of perpetrators who target members of specifically identified communities sends a malicious message to criminals that certain groups of people are easier targets with lenient consequences,” she said.

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District of Columbia

Duke Ellington School of Arts postpones renaming theater after Chappelle

In a statement released on Friday, the school said it would go ahead with the renaming at a ceremony rescheduled for April 22, 2022

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Dave Chappelle performs at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Aug. 19, 2017. (Photo by Mathieu Bitton)

WASHINGTON – D.C.’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts announced on Friday that it has postponed for five months its plan to rename its theater after comedian Dave Chappelle, a graduate of the acclaimed performing arts high school, following complaints about his comments about LGBTQ people, particularly transgender people, in a Netflix special program.

The school initially said it would hold a ceremony to rename the theater after Chappelle, one of its most famous alumni, on Nov. 23. In a statement released on Friday, the school said it would go ahead with the renaming at a ceremony rescheduled for April 22, 2022.

In the statement, the school said Chappelle’s Netflix stand-up special, The Closer, “contains controversial material juxtaposing discrimination against Black Americans with that against non-Black members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

The statement adds that holding the event this month “without first addressing questions and concerns from members of the Ellington community would be a missed opportunity for a teachable moment.”

The Washington Post reports that LGBTQ organizations, Netflix employees and some Duke Ellington students, including LGBTQ students, have criticized Chappelle’s comments about LGBTQ people in his Netflix special The Closer.

“We have engaged in listening sessions with our students and have allowed space for diverse viewpoints,” the statement released by the school says. “We are committed to fostering a community where every individual feels both heard and supported.”

“We recognize that not everyone will accept or welcome a particular artist’s point of view, product or craft, but reject the notion that a ‘cancel culture’ is a healthy or constructive means to teach our students how society should balance creative freedom with protecting the rights and dignity of all its members.”

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District of Columbia

American University student expelled over attacking Gay Asian man, family

A separate police report says he shouted the word “faggots” at the family and shouted, “You are not Americans”

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Courtesy of the American University, Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON – An American University graduate student who was arrested by D.C. police on Aug. 7 on charges that he assaulted a gay Asian man and the man’s parents while shouting homophobic and anti-Asian slurs “is no longer affiliated with the university and will not be allowed on campus,” according to a report by Washington D. C. news radio WTOP.

In an Oct. 9 broadcast that it updated this week, WTOP said Patrick Trebat, 38, who had been taking a night class at the university’s Kogod School of Business, was banned from returning to the campus.

Charging documents filed in D.C. Superior Court show that Trebat was charged by D.C. police with one count of felony assault, two counts of simple assault and one count of destruction of property for allegedly assaulting and injuring Sean Lai, 30, an out gay man of Chinese ancestry, and his parents on the 3700 block of Fulton Street, N.W., on Aug. 7.

The charging documents say Trebat allegedly began to follow Lai and his parents as they were walking along the street in the city’s Observatory Circle neighborhood near the National Cathedral. According to a statement by a police official from the police district whose officers made the arrest, Trebat punched and kicked the three victims as he stated, “Get out of my country.” The police statement says the family was taken to a hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

A separate police report says Trebat shouted the word “faggots” at the family and shouted, “You are not Americans!”

Based on these allegations, prosecutors classified the assault charges as an anti-Asian bias related crime, but they did not add an anti-gay classification to the charges.

Court records show that Trebat was released two days after his arrest while awaiting trial under the court’s High Intensity Supervision Program, which, among other things, imposed a curfew requiring him to return home by 10 p.m.

An Oct. 8 story in The Eagle, the American University student newspaper, says it learned that Trebat’s attorney filed a motion in court, which the Washington Blade also discovered from court records, asking a judge to extend the curfew deadline from 10 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. so that Trebat could attend at night class at American University.

The motion, which prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not oppose and the judge approved, identified Trebat in the public court records as an AU graduate student.

According to the Eagle, representatives of the university’s Asian American and LGBTQ student groups criticized university officials for not alerting students that an AU student charged with an anti-Asian hate crime while hurling homophobic slurs had access to the campus and could pose a danger to students.

“Patrick Trebant is not affiliated with American University and is not allowed on campus,” AU told the Blade on Wednesday in a statement. “While we cannot discuss details of an individual matter, when a student has been arrested, charged, convicted of, or sentenced for a felony crime, the university’s student conduct code provides for an administrative adjudication process. The safety of our students and our community is our priority.”

The Eagle reports that the code of conduct states that the dean of students or their designee can administratively adjudicate a case when a student has been accused of a non-academic offense “where the student has been arrested, charged, convicted of, or sentenced for a felony crime” for certain misconduct. The code of conduct applies in a situation in which a student is arrested for an off-campus allegation.

Court records show Trebat is scheduled to return to court at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 15 for a felony status hearing before Superior Court Judge Judith Pipe.

Neither Trebat nor his attorney, Brandi Harden, could immediately be reached for comment

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