Witness to D.C. beating says victim cried for mercy; 5 charged

Map locates scene of beating on U Street.
By Paul Duggan and Mary Pat Flaherty
Friday, October 15, 2010; 10:50 PM

It was past closing time at a popular rock bar called DC9 when Ali Ahmed Mohammed showed up, looking to get in, as police tell it. After being turned away at the door, he became angry. He picked up two bricks and hurled them through the nightclub's front window, witnesses told investigators.

What happened next, about 2:30 a.m. Friday, was a "savage" case of "vigilante justice," D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said.

A co-owner of the club and four employees chased Mohammed, caught up with him, and stomped and pummeled him on the street in front of the club, at Ninth and U streets, Lanier said. He was pronounced dead shortly afterward at a hospital.

"When you talk about a beating like this as a result of property damage ... it's just ridiculous," Lanier said at a news briefing Friday after the five men had been charged with second-degree murder. "He was tackled, punched and kicked."

But it remains unclear whether Mohammed, 27, of Silver Spring, died from the beating or some other cause. Although an autopsy was performed, authorities said, lab tests have to be done before a ruling can be made on whether the death was a homicide caused by the beating.

Because the D.C. medical examiner's office has yet to determine the cause of Mohammed's death, authorities are likely to reduce the charges against the five men to aggravated assault before they make their initial appearances in D.C. Superior Court on Saturday, according to law enforcement sources.

The sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing, said that even if the charges are reduced, they could be changed again, back to murder, depending on the findings of the medical examiner.

Police identified the suspects as a bar co-owner, William Spieler, 46, and four of his employees: Darryl Carter Jr., 20; Reginald Phillips, 22; and Evan Preller, 28, all residents of the District; and Arthur Zoloca, 25, of Silver Spring.

The incident occurred near the city's vibrant U Street corridor, in an area noted for its nightlife and ethnic restaurants, many of them Ethiopian.

Law enforcement sources said witnesses told detectives that after Mohammed, an Ethiopian immigrant, threw the bricks, he was chased and tackled in a crosswalk on Ninth Street, about 30 feet from the club's front door.

One witness, speaking to a reporter, said the victim cried for mercy during the beating, shouting: "Please! Please! Please!"

The witness, a 47-year-old man interviewed on the condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety, said Mohammed was standing at the curb between two parked cars when he hurled the bricks.

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