By Robert E. Pierre and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Tiffany Gates was so afraid for her life that she began making her own funeral arrangements.
The 33-year-old had been stalked by her former boyfriend, who relatives said abused her for at least a year. In August, he set her Southeast Washington apartment on fire. On Friday, authorities said, he stabbed her to death after she dialed family members and 911. Gates was on the phone with a federal marshal as she was being attacked.
"He is here and kicking my door in," she told him. The marshal called for backup, but by the time he and D.C. police entered the building a short time later, Gates lay dying.
The killing was the culmination of a violent relationship, as described in court documents and by family members and friends. Police arrested her former boyfriend, Roderick A. Ridley, 31, who was hiding in a vacant apartment in the building. He was charged with second-degree murder while armed.
The marshal and a D.C. corrections officer, members of a regional fugitive task force who were looking for Ridley because he had escaped from a halfway house, were outside the apartment building when the attack occurred. Family members questioned why the men did not rush in before police arrived. Two law enforcement officials familiar with the details raised a similar point but spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. Family members also said they wish Ridley had been charged with first-degree murder.
"Marshals were outside the door while they were stabbing her," said Manyka Gaither, a family friend. "It's an insult."
Dave Turner, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, said, "Our deputies are cooperating to the fullest extent possible with the ongoing investigations, but we are prohibited from discussing any details associated with the case."
Gates, a native of the District, graduated from Duke Ellington High School in 1992. She had worked at Housing Opportunities Unlimited and in her spare time styled hair for friends and family.
"She was always smiling and jovial," said Jacqueline Ellison, a longtime friend.
But her relationship with Ridley, friends said, was dark. Gaither said Ridley had frequently beaten Gates, who recently sought a clean break. She changed her telephone number, Gaither said. But that did not stop Ridley from showing up at her apartment with threats.
Gates and Ridley began dating in the summer of 2007, records show, and lived together for a while in the 3900 block of D Street SE, in the same apartment where she was killed. The relationship deteriorated, and she turned to the police and courts for help in August after a series of incidents.
Gates sought a temporary protection order after Ridley allegedly threatened her life, the records show. Gates accused Ridley of kicking and punching her and striking her head with a knife in a dispute at the apartment Aug. 12.
According to the filing, Ridley repeatedly called Gates, at one point saying that "she was going to die today and that they were going to die together." On Aug. 13, she asked police to help her retrieve her belongings. Ridley was there, and his behavior that night led to his arrest.
Ridley would not let police inside, according to charging papers filed in D.C. Superior Court. He allegedly screamed from the window that there would be "fireworks" and then set a couch on fire. As black smoke drifted out the window, police evacuated the building and called firefighters to the scene. Firefighters found a charcoal grill on the couch and a butane lighter in a nearby bedroom. Ridley also was in the bedroom, unconscious, the charging papers stated. He was briefly hospitalized and charged with arson.
A judge ordered that Ridley remain jailed pending trial. But when he pleaded guilty Oct. 9, the court permitted him to be released to a halfway house. He escaped Oct. 29.
On Aug. 13, Gates received the temporary protection order, which was good for two weeks. But with Ridley locked up at the time, she did not pursue a permanent order. Her court filing in August described a pattern of frightening conduct, including a February incident in which Ridley threatened to set her on fire in front of her 9-year-old child. The filing said Gates "fears for her life."
The night she died, Gates dialed 911 about midnight and reported that Ridley was yelling threats outside her window, but when police arrived, they could not find him. At 12:19 a.m., Gates called the marshal, identified in the affidavit as Inspector Robert Hoffmaster, who went to the scene at 1:25 a.m. and called Gates from his car two minutes later.
After the conversation ended with Gates screaming, Hoffmaster called for police backup. He told investigators that he stayed in his car until police arrived. They had trouble entering the building but eventually roused a tenant who let them in. Police found Gates on the third floor.
She was taken to Prince George's Hospital Center, where she was pronounced dead at 2:20 a.m. Ridley was found hiding in a cabinet in a basement apartment. He scuffled briefly with officers, and a Taser was used to subdue him, police said.
Ridley faces a preliminary hearing Dec. 8. He also is scheduled for a preliminary hearing today for his halfway house escape. Prosecutors said he was scheduled for sentencing in the arson case in December.
Staff writer Keith L. Alexander contributed to this report.