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Howard University student argues self-defense in altercation with roommate

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A Howard University student charged with felony assault was defending herself during a fight with her roommate last month when she grabbed a pot of hot water from the stove and threw the water on her, the student’s attorney said during a hearing Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court.

Defense attorney Kelli Neptune said her client, Kierstyn Jeffries, 20, was being bullied by her roommate when she reached for the pot and hurled the water onto her, leaving her roommate with second- and third-degree burns across her chest.

Still, Magistrate Judge Kimberley S. Knowles said there was enough evidence for the case to proceed to a grand jury. Knowles said there was no evidence Jeffries acted “appropriately or reasonably.”

Prosecutors had offered a plea agreement in which they would not request jail time. But Jeffries, through her attorney, rejected the offer. A follow-up hearing date has to be scheduled.

According to the attorneys, the women got into an initial fight on Oct. 19 when Jeffries’s roommate became angry over how Jeffries was using a dish that her mother bought for the apartment. The victim removed the dish so Jeffries could no longer use it.

On Oct. 20, the argument continued and escalated into a physical altercation. Police were summoned to the Howard Towers in the 2200 block of Sherman Avenue NW. D.C. police Officer Francisco Montano testified at Wednesday’s hearing that the victim told her Jeffries threw “hot boiling water” on her, which Jeffries was preparing to boil rice.

Montano said he interviewed the victim briefly in the back of an ambulance while she was being treated by Emergency Medical Services personnel. “I saw the pain in her eyes,” Montano testified. Montano later acknowledged that he did not see the water boiling but knew that the water was hot based on the victim’s injuries.

The victim told the officer that she and her roommate got into an argument and were yelling and cursing at each other before Jeffries threw the water on her. But Jeffries told the officer that the two women were in a physical altercation and she “felt” her roommate back her into the kitchen and against the stove. Jeffries told the officer she “grabbed the hot water without thinking and threw it to defend herself.”

Neptune said her client, who is 5-foot-5 and 115 pounds, felt “threatened” by her roommate, who is 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds. Neptune said because the victim failed to tell the officer that she and her roommate were in a physical altercation, the victim was trying to hide evidence of the fight. The officer said he later saw injuries on Jeffries, including a bruised lip, and advised her to take photos of the injuries for evidence.

“The complainant in this case is actually the bully,” Neptune argued. “Ms. Jeffries was being attacked.”

After the incident, Jeffries was arrested, charged and released on her own recognizance.

Jeffries, a junior from Lathrup Village, Mich., stood quietly as her attorney argued on her behalf.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela Saffoe argued that Jeffries’s actions were “excessive and unnecessary and not reasonable.” The prosecutor said there were no signs of self-defense, because the victim did not have a weapon at the time of the altercation.

Despite the judge’s decision not to dismiss the case, Knowles said the point of the hearing was “not to keep Ms. Jeffries out of school” but rather to determine whether there was enough evidence for a trial.

While the case is pending, Jeffries’s attorneys are trying to get the pre-med student, who has a 2.7 cumulative grade-point average, back into school. Since the incident, Howard has forbade her from returning to campus or even to sit in on classes via the Web, according to one of Jeffries’s attorneys, Cynthia Goode Works. Goode Works says Jeffries should be allowed to return to class at least until a verdict is returned in her case.

“It would be a shame if it turns out that it was self-defense and she loses her scholarship and a year of school,” Goode Works said after the hearing.

A Howard spokeswoman declined to comment on Jeffries’s status with the university.

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