Murder case against off-duty Arlington deputy proceeds

As the 22-year-old driver for “PBS NewsHour” lay dying in the yard behind him, Craig Patterson stepped outside the gate and called 911.

“This is an off-duty deputy sheriff for Arlington County,” he told a police dispatcher. “I just had a young man pull a knife on me, and I shot him.”

The call — played publicly in court for the first time Tuesday — lasted only minutes. But it was perhaps the centerpiece of prosecutors’ effort to convince an Alexandria General District Court judge that they had probable cause to press on with criminal counts against Patterson, who is charged with murder in the slaying of Julian Dawkins on May 22.

Patterson’s supporters and Dawkins’s relatives and friends packed a small courtroom in Alexandria to hear the call Tuesday; some were forced to stand along the back wall when the seats filled. When Judge Becky Moore deemed the case strong enough to be presented to a grand jury, many stood and applauded.

Patterson had already been charged with murder in Dawkins’s slaying, and Tuesday’s result was largely predictable. The case will now move from District Court to Circuit Court.


In the center is Julian Dawkins, 22, who was killed by an Arlington County sheriff's deputy. (Courtesy of Curtis Dawkins)

But the hearing also offered new details about the moments before and after Dawkins was shot, and provided a window into how Patterson might defend himself. In arguing that the case should not be presented to a grand jury, Joe King, Patterson’s defense attorney, said Dawkins had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 on the night he was killed and carried a knife. He said Patterson might have shot Dawkins because he felt Dawkins was a “danger.”

Prosecutors have said that Dawkins’s knife was found folded and clipped in his pocket and that he could not have come at Patterson with it.

Dawkins was coming from a party at his aunt’s house that night, held to celebrate a cousin who had just been drafted by the Washington Mystics. Neighbors described Dawkins on Tuesday as a friendly, outgoing young man who was well-known in the area and well-liked.

Prosecutors called witnesses to support a claim that they have long made — that after Patterson and Dawkins argued, the sheriff’s deputy walked away and came back with a gun. Charonda Brown, who lives up the street from the site of the shooting, testified that she heard Patterson yell to Dawkins: “I be back. You best believe I be back,” just minutes before the shot was fired. Reginald White, another neighbor, said he saw Patterson pass his house unarmed and then go back toward the spot of the argument with a gun.

Two witnesses testified that Dawkins and Patterson, who was staying at a house in the neighborhood, seemed to have been arguing about which of them had a right to be there. Willie Sydnor said he heard Patterson say, “What you doing in this territory?” and Dawkins responded, “This is my block.” Sydnor said he saw Dawkins chase Patterson briefly.

The most revealing moments, though, seemed to come from the 911 tape. At a dispatcher’s prompting, Patterson can be heard asking Dawkins whether he is conscious and then saying. “I can’t tell. He’s lying on his front side.” A few moments later, Patterson says, “He’s breathing. He just moved.” On the call, he speaks in a calm, professional manner. Only toward the end of the call did he show some nervousness, repeatedly telling the dispatcher that he was not injured.

Patterson told the dispatcher that Dawkins “approached me about being in his neighborhood, telling me it was his neighborhood.”


Craig Patterson (Alexandria Police Department)

Family members said after the hearing that the call proved to them Patterson had no remorse.

“I truly think it was premeditated and that 911 call shows it to me,” said Gwen Pratt Miller, Dawkins’s mother.

King declined to comment after the hearing.

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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