Judge calls D.C. police officer charged with child sexual abuse a ‘danger’

A District Court judge Tuesday ordered a veteran D.C. police officer to remain jailed after a second woman came forward to say he had sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager singing in a church choir he directed.

During a preliminary hearing, D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz called Wendel Palmer a “danger” who targeted adolescent girls. The hearing was for a charge that he repeatedly sexually abused a girl, beginning when she was 11 years old and lasting nearly three years.

Palmer will remain in jail until his trial in April.

The 22-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department was arrested last week and charged with one count of first-degree child sexual abuse. Detectives have said that Palmer directed the youth choir at his family’s church, Bethuel Temple Church of Christ Apostolic in Southeast Washington, when the alleged abuse occurred. The girl was a member of the choir. Authorities said Palmer allegedly assaulted the girl during Saturday choir rehearsals when other members of the children’s choir took breaks and left the church building.

Police learned of the alleged abuse when the mother of the girl, who is now 19, called a hotline in March 2012 to make a report, according to court documents. Detectives interviewed the woman days later.

During Tuesday’s hearing, detective Darryn Robinson testified that the woman told authorities she was “afraid” to say anything when she was a teenager because Palmer was a police officer. Palmer, according to authorities, gave her a ride in his squad car and often wore his uniform, belt and, at times, his service weapon, during the assaults.

Robinson also testified that while investigating the allegations, a second woman reported that Palmer sexually assaulted her. She was 13 at the time and a member of the youth choir, she told detectives.

The second woman told authorities that Palmer turned off the lights, which he said would help her “sing better.” It was then that he groped her, she told authorities.

No additional charges have been filed based on the new allegations; the second woman said the assault happened about 10 years ago.

Palmer, a father of nine, sat expressionless during the hearing. Nearly a dozen family members and church members were in the courtroom until Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah McClellan had about half of them removed because they are likely to be witnesses in the trial.

Palmer’s grandfather was the founder of the church. He died in 2010. Palmer’s brother now serves as pastor.

Harold Martin, Palmer’s attorney, argued that the first woman made the allegations out of anger and to get revenge against Palmer and the church. Robinson testified that the woman told authorities that her brother and one of Palmer’s sons had gotten into a fistfight at one time and that her brother had been kicked out of the choir. The woman and her family left the church after complaining about her brother’s treatment and feeling as though church officials “didn’t do anything” about the punishment, Robinson said.

Martin called Princess Knight, a former member of the youth choir and Palmer’s niece, to testify on his behalf. Knight, 27, said she never saw Palmer and the woman alone.

Leibovitz said Knight had no way of knowing when her uncle and the woman may have been alone. She said Palmer “abused” his position of authority as a police officer and as a choir director.

“He poses a danger to the universe of children of the church, especially the church that is operated by his family,” she said.

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of intern Chandra Levy.
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