The son of a prominent CBS correspondent appeared in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday to face a vandalism charge that resulted from an investigation into the defacing of several cars with swastikas in Cathedral Heights.
Louis Levine Arenstein, 23, was charged with one felony count of malicious destruction of property worth more than $1,000. The charge resulted from a sting operation June 20 that police set up after more than two dozen cars were scratched or gouged — three of them with swastikas — in the Northwest Washington neighborhood.
Arenstein is accused of backing over a motorcycle the night police were watching. He has not been charged in connection with any of the more sinister acts of vandalism, and prosecutors made no mention of those acts in court Wednesday.
Arenstein’s attorney, Steven D. Kupferberg, said his client has no knowledge of the swastika attacks and has had no discussions with prosecutors linking Arenstein to the incidents. The motorcycle damage and the swastika attacks, Kupferberg said, “are not connected.”
For residents and victims of the vandalism, the lack of specific charges concerning the swastikas gives the case an incomplete feel even as they celebrate that no such incidents have occurred since Arenstein’s arrest.
Lance Williams, whose Audi was sliced bumper to bumper in May, said the attacks stopped after the sting operation in June.
Earlier this month, Williams said residents had been watching the criminal case carefully, worried that it might quietly disappear given the suspect’s prominent family. “A lot of people are concerned with what happens next,” he said at the time.
But after Wednesday’s preliminary hearing, Williams said residents understand that police might not be able to link all the incidents of vandalism. He said there has not been a problem since the arrest.
“It has given me some confidence that this situation has been solved,” Williams said. “People are pretty confident there won’t be any more incidents.”
Arenstein is the son of Howard Arenstein, an award-winning journalist and foreign correspondent, who is the Washington bureau manager and correspondent for CBS Radio News. The elder Arenstein had a scrape with the law in 2010, when D.C. police arrested him and his wife, journalist Orly Katz, on marijuana charges. The charges were dismissed after a government witness did not show up at a hearing.
A grand jury indicted Louis Arenstein on Wednesday, and he also appeared before a Superior Court judge, who ruled that there was enough preliminary evidence to move the case to trial.
During the hearing, Thomas Rosenborg, a D.C. police detective, testified that an undercover officer saw Arenstein ramming his black Nissan Crossover SUV into a 1996 Harley-Davidson in the 2900 block of Bellevue Terrace NW. When the officer tried to stop Arenstein, the suspect drove in the officer’s direction — causing the officer to “jump out of the way” — before speeding off, Rosenborg said. Rosenborg said Arenstein “continually rammed and pushed” the motorcycle with his SUV, causing about $1,300 in damage.
The undercover officer who identified Arenstein as the driver of the SUV was in the Cathedral Heights neighborhood investigating acts of vandalism beginning late last year in which vehicles, many of them German-made, were scratched or gouged.
There was no mention of the vandalism of the cars at Arenstein’s hearing. Police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said later Wednesday that police would not comment further on the case.
Arenstein was wearing a navy blue sport coat and a blue-and-red-striped necktie. He sat next to his mother in the public section of the courtroom until his case was called. Magistrate Judge Frederick J. Sullivan ordered Arenstein to return to court for his next hearing at a date to be determined.
Outside the courtroom, neither Arenstein nor his mother would comment. His father was not in the courtroom, Kupferberg said.