The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The crimes against them were terrifying, but the judicial system made it worse

SECOND-CHANCE CITY | This is part of a continuing series that will examine issues related to repeat violent offenders in the District of Columbia. Part I | Part II | Part III

On a warm summer night, Kristin Van Goor was jolted awake by the sound of knocking.

She hurried down the wooden staircase in her pajamas. Through the windows, she saw red and blue police lights flashing, and her husband, Dave, on the doorstep.

A detective in a police cruiser shouted, “Are you all good?” Dave gave a nod and walked inside their Hill East home, just after midnight.

Dave paced in the living room. The memories spilled out in jagged pieces.

He remembered the black gun held to his head.

Three young men, wearing black masks over their faces, surrounded him as he walked home from the Stadium-Armory Metro station about 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 20, 2015. They grabbed his backpack. They took his phone and laptop, his wallet and keys. They dug deeper still into his pockets and fished out the last bit of loose change.

Just get through this, Dave thought. Just survive.

During the days and months to follow, one young man would be linked to the crime. In a span of several months, he would leave a trail of terror across the region, only to be granted a break under the Youth Rehabilitation Act, a D.C. law often used by judges seeking to give second chances to young violent offenders.

The man’s case is one of more than 3,000 felony sentences handed down since 2010 under the law, which allows for leniency in some sentences and the opportunity for offenders to emerge with no criminal record.

The story that brings together that young man, the Van Goors and other victims illuminates the difficulty of trying to protect a young man’s future and society at the same time. It also shows how victims suffer not just during the crime, but also in the aftermath — how the system can leave them disillusioned and deliver not justice but frustration.

This account is based on interviews with the victims, and on police reports and court records.

On that night in August 2015, Dave Van Goor saw only the masked men surrounding him. One of them demanded his iPhone passcode.

The man held the gun sideways and pointed it toward Dave’s temple.

"Right f---ing now!" he yelled.

After they got the code, the men sprinted into an alleyway and fled into the darkness.

Dave ran to get help. Good Samaritans in a nearby apartment building called 911. Police officers took his statement and drove him back to the safety of his home.

But Dave and Kristin didn’t feel safe. Not that night. And not in the weeks and months to follow.

It was their first night of a year-long journey in a new role: victims.

Both had earned PhDs in scientific fields. Dave, then 38, was a student at George Washington University Law School and worked for a law firm; Kristin, 35, had a job at a biopharmaceutical company.

The criminals who brazenly robbed Dave at gunpoint, on a residential street just a mile and a half from the U.S. Capitol, now had the keys to their house and car.

"How are we supposed to sleep?" Kristin asked. "We are sitting ducks."

One police officer told the Van Goors not to worry. Criminals never return to the scene of the crime, he said. Twenty-plus years of experience told him so.

But the Van Goors worried anyway. At 1 a.m., they walked outside and fastened a club over the steering wheel of their black Volkswagen Tiguan SUV.

The key to the club was already in the hands of the robbers. The couple hoped the robbers might not think of it.

The Van Goors retreated to the basement with their jittery labradoodle, Darwin.

There were credit cards to cancel. Insurance companies to call. Locks to be changed.

Dave huddled with Kristin and Darwin in the basement. He flipped on the TV and sipped some Scotch. The whisky dulled his nerves and soothed his anger.

He drank a little more and drifted to sleep just before dawn.

The missing car: 7:45 a.m., Friday, Aug. 21, 2015

Kristin was up early the next morning, with plans to drive to Baltimore for a work meeting.

The Van Goors had parked their Tiguan behind a motorcycle less than a block from their home on A Street NE.

The motorcycle was there. But the SUV was gone, just an empty space in its place.

Kristin shouted to a family across the street, “Did you happen to see a black Tiguan parked here?” They had not. Kristin ran to tell Dave.

“Are you f---ing kidding me?” he said.

She called 911 about 8 a.m. She called again at 8:39 a.m. A dispatcher told her that they were busy with higher-priority calls.

At 11:26 a.m., Kristin called once more. Officer Topaz Proctor responded, and Kristin yelled at him on the doorstep. Dave tried to calm her. She apologized for snapping at the officer.

Now, they had more paperwork to handle:

A new police statement.

A call to the car insurance company.

And a contract for a rental car.

The first clue: Monday, Aug. 24, 2015

In the Van Goors’ mail was an envelope with no return address. Inside the envelope: a handwritten note, dated Aug. 21, 2015 — the day after the armed robbery. The envelope also contained a reimbursement check from her company, made out to Kristin, for $95.

Hello Ms. Van Goor,

My name is Brenda, and on my way to work this morning I found this check near Texas Ave. and Dubois St. in S.E.

Days before the robbery, Kristin had signed the check and asked Dave to deposit it for her. It had been in his stolen backpack.

Kristin immediately called Brenda to thank her and to tell her about the robbery.

Then, she called the police. She thought the note was an important clue. If the check was found on a street in the Benning Ridge neighborhood, their Tiguan had to be nearby. Maybe the robbers lived in the neighborhood.

She got through to a D.C. police detective who said that he knew the neighborhood quite well.

“Go look for my car,” she begged.

He later told the Van Goors that he spent a few hours looking but had no luck.

The next victim: 7:50 a.m., Friday, Aug. 28, 2015

Kimberly Potter-Cooper, 40, had just a few days to prepare for the first week of school at Center City, a charter school in the Hill East neighborhood. As the assistant principal, she had plenty of work to do.

On her drive to school, ­Potter-Cooper sang along to gospel tunes in her Honda Civic. Just before 8 a.m., she parked in a lot beside the school and unloaded three bags: a Michael Kors purse, a computer bag and a Kate Spade workbag filled with school supplies, a hammer and paint to redecorate her office.

Still humming, she walked through the parking lot and into an alley on her way to the front door of the school.

Then she saw a young man, dressed in a loose white T-shirt and black pants with a skullcap on his head, lingering nearby in the alley.

“I saw him clear as day,” she said.

The public high school, Eastern, was just down the block. Classes had already begun there, and she thought he was probably a student at Eastern.

She passed him and then heard his footsteps scraping the gravel on the pavement behind her. She moved to the right, thinking he wanted to pass her along the chain-link fence.

Suddenly, he grabbed her purse strap, and she turned to face him.

She racked her brain. She had taught for 17 years in the District. Maybe she knew his name.

If I can call his name, maybe he won’t do this, she thought.

He raised his shirt, flashing the handle of a gun tucked into his waistband. He put a finger to his mouth, signaling for her to be quiet.

She then handed over her workbag and her purse, containing her wallet, cash, credit cards, driver’s license, and keys to her Civic and her home. He pointed at her computer bag, which held her MacBook.

“Do you want that?” he asked, with chilling calm.

“Yes,” she begged. “Please.”

Inside, there were irreplaceable work files. Student projects. Years of lesson plans.

“Nah, give me that, too,” he told her.

He took her last bag and then motioned for her to walk away.

Her back toward him, she walked down the alley along the chain-link fence toward the street.

Her eyes were closed. She feared he was going to shoot her.

She willed herself to keep walking. Just be numb.

At the end of the alley, her eyes were still clenched shut.

She opened her eyes, turned left and sprinted up the steps to the charter school.

“Help me!” she screamed. “I’ve been robbed!”

Kimberly Potter-Cooper, a former assistant principal, was talking into school when she was robbed at gunpoint. She describes her encounter with the gunman. (Video: Whitney Shefte/TWP)

A crime alert: 8:15 a.m., Friday, Aug. 28, 2015

A block away, Kristin Van Goor stood in line at Mia’s, a local coffee shop. It had been a week since her husband was robbed.

She read a new email on her phone. There was an urgent neighborhood crime alert: Someone had just been robbed at gunpoint, and the robber was on the loose in Hill East.

Kristin had planned to walk to the Metro from the coffee shop, but she changed her mind. She decided to return home and drive her rental car instead.

A stakeout: Midmorning, Friday, Aug. 28, 2015

Dispatchers broadcast details of the crime to police officers in the neighborhood. Officer Proctor heard the description of the robber — of a young black male with a black skull cap and white T-shirt. Just moments before the robbery, the officer had seen a young man driving a black Volkswagen Tiguan who matched that description.

Kimberly Potter-Cooper’s husband drove into the District from their home in Upper Marlboro, Md., with the family’s spare car keys.

She and her husband wanted to quickly move her Honda Civic away from the school parking lot. The gunman had the keys, and they thought he might come back for it.

They moved the car back to their home.

Officers staked out the school parking lot for several hours, thinking the man might return to try to find the car. At 10:56 a.m., they once again spotted the young black man, driving the Tiguan near the parking lot.

When they tried to stop him, he fled east on East Capitol Street.

About three miles from the start of the pursuit by police, the driver crashed the Tiguan into a city street-sweeping machine near 51st Street and Ayers Place SE.

The driver and two other men bailed out of the car. After a brief foot chase, the officers caught the driver but lost sight of the other men.

Inside the SUV, they recovered Potter-Cooper’s ID card. On the passenger side, they found a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol on the floor.

A ‘show-up’ identification: 12:35 p.m., Friday, Aug. 28, 2015

After they caught the suspect, police called Potter-Cooper at home. She needed to return to the school, where a police detective would be waiting for her.

Potter-Cooper sat in the back seat of the police cruiser as a detective drove her on East Capitol toward Southern Avenue. She was going to see the gunman in person.

They arrived about a block away from the scene of the crash. The detective told Potter-Cooper that he would record her reactions.

Potter-Cooper would be asked to take a live look at the young man in handcuffs to see whether she could confirm that he was the man who robbed her.

Potter-Cooper was confident that she would be able to identify him. She had made an effort to stare into the young man’s eyes. She would not forget them.

In clear view, they walked the young man toward the police SUV in the street.

She worried that he could see her through the car windows and knew where she worked. He had her ID. He knew where she lived.

She knew it was him. The pants were the same. He had changed his shirt, but he still wore the skullcap.

She made the identification. But then she got jittery.

Oh, my gosh, she thought. I’m about to send a black male to jail.

She asked to see him once more. She thought of her own son.

If you’re about to send this young man to jail, you better know for sure, she thought.

She identified him for the second time, 100 percent sure.

Later, police asked her to come to the station, where she collected some of the items that were recovered from the Tiguan.

When the detective briefly left the room, she peered over his desk.

There was a police photo of the young man who robbed her.

And for the first time, a name: Joshua Mayo.

Kimberly Potter-Cooper describes what it was like to identify the man who robbed her at gunpoint. (Video: Whitney Shefte/TWP)

Preliminary hearing: Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015:

After being arrested on suspicion of armed robbery, Mayo was taken to Children’s National Medical Center in the District for minor injuries sustained in the crash.

He was two weeks shy of his 18th birthday, but he would be charged as an adult in the armed robbery of Potter-Cooper.

The Aug. 29 charging papers also revealed a direct link between Mayo and the Van Goors: The Tiguan he crashed was their stolen SUV.

Three days later, Mayo appeared in D.C. Superior Court for a preliminary hearing.

Magistrate Judge Frederick Sullivan heard testimony from Officer Proctor, who described spotting Mayo in the Tiguan near the school parking lot, wearing a skullcap.

Sullivan said there was “plenty” of probable cause to move forward.

“Your client’s involved himself in extremely dangerous conduct,” Sullivan told the defense attorney. “He’s sticking a gun into people and taking their property . . . and then he’s fleeing in an automobile with other guys in the automobile and it looks as though there may be a couple of different crimes here.”

He ordered Mayo held without bond.

A Pretrial Services official noted that there were also two arrest warrants for Mayo in connection with armed robberies in Prince George’s County, Md., in July.

On Sept. 4, 2015, the Van Goors learned from a police officer that their stolen SUV had been recovered. They were told few details, only that their vehicle had been used as a getaway car in an armed robbery.

Joshua Mayo: Early fall 2015

Armed with the name “Joshua Mayo,” Potter-Cooper took matters into her own hands.

She wanted to know why Joshua was not in school on the day of the robbery, the first week of public school in the District.

Her mind was racked with questions for him: Was it fun? Were you just doing this for kicks? Or were you doing this because you thought it was the way to survive?

Assistant U.S. Attorney Vivien Cockburn was assigned to her case.

“All the prosecutors would say is that he had been in a little bit of trouble,” Potter-Cooper said. “They kept saying, ‘He’s done this before.’ ”

She received an official letter telling her that she was the victim of a crime. It laid out her rights for compensation. The price of changing her locks — $716 — could be covered by a victim’s fund.

Meanwhile, the Van Goors were in the dark.

“Every time I called the prosecutor’s office, they had no idea what was going on,” Kristin said. “When I tried to call back, I was never able to figure out if Dave’s robbery had been reviewed by a prosecutor or even been assigned to a prosecutor.”

No charges had been filed against Mayo for the crimes involving their family: the armed robbery of Dave and the theft and destruction of their SUV.

Eventually, they learned from Cockburn that Joshua Mayo was the man who crashed their SUV.

At 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 14, a woman named Rekha Patil showed up on the Van Goors’ doorstep. She asked for Dave, acting friendly, Kristin recalled.

Kristin assumed she was a law school classmate.

But Patil was an investigator for the D.C. Public Defender Service. She was there to help defend Joshua Mayo. She wanted to ask about the robbery.

Kristin screamed at her to leave, immediately.

Like Kristin, Kimberly Potter-Cooper also had a bitter run-in with a woman from the Public Defender Service. She could not remember the woman’s name but said she did not think it was Patil.

The woman, who had jet black hair pulled back into a ponytail, showed up at her school on Oct. 1, claiming to work for the defense team of Joshua Mayo.

“I really want to talk to you because I don’t think you know what you’re doing,” the woman said, according to Potter-Cooper’s account. “You’re about to send an innocent young man to jail.”

“He wasn’t a young man the day he robbed me,” Potter-Cooper said she told her.

Patil referred a reporter to her bosses for comment. In a statement to The Washington Post, the Public Defender Service responded that its investigators have a constitutional right and duty to attempt to interview witnesses to crimes as part of the defense case.

“PDS investigators need to, often under very tight time constraints, attempt to speak with any witnesses and victims to get their side of the story,” said Janet Mitchell, PDS supervising attorney. “Investigators are instructed to be persistent but also professional and respectful.”

The makings of a deal: Friday, Oct. 2, 2015

The next day, Mayo was offered a deal by the U.S. attorney’s office.

The paperwork revealed yet another twist in Mayo’s brief but violent history.

He had been linked to a third armed robbery in the District of Columbia.

In April 2015, a group of young men approached a 39-year-old man in Southeast Washington and stole his phone. They also shot him in his right arm.

With the stolen Samsung Galaxy phone, they made a selfie video of joy rides around the city. In the video, they blow smoke and flash a gun, laughing.

What they did not know, however, was that the video automatically uploaded to the victim’s online cloud storage. Their faces were clearly visible.

The victim turned the video over to police. In August, the D.C. police posted the video online and asked for tips. An anonymous tipster identified Joshua Mayo.

On Sept. 4, after he had been charged with armed robbery in Potter-Cooper’s case, Mayo was charged with another count of armed robbery for taking the 24-year-old man’s cellphone.

Prosecutors wrote that Mayo, under D.C. law, would face a mandatory minimum prison term of five years for each armed robbery, since they were separate crimes. If convicted, he would be spending a mandatory 10 years in prison.

But they offered him a generous plea deal.

They would dismiss the charge of the first armed robbery — connected with the cellphone theft and shooting — in exchange for a plea to a misdemeanor charge of receipt of stolen property. The misdemeanor carried a penalty of 180 days in jail.

For the second armed-robbery charge — the crime against Kimberly Potter-Cooper — prosecutors would agree to accept an admission by Mayo of committing an armed robbery with an imitation weapon, even though police officers had recovered a real firearm — the .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol.

The significance of the imitation weapon: Mayo would no longer be subject to the mandatory minimum of five years for armed robbery.

“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” Potter-Cooper said. “I knew damn well it wasn’t a toy gun.”

Richard Tischner, chief of the Superior Court Division for the U.S. attorney’s office, said “imitation weapon” clauses are sometimes stipulated as part of plea negotiations, even if real guns are used in the crimes.

“It’s not a lie,” he told The Post. “It’s a concession to the case.”

Signing the deal: 10 a.m., Friday, Oct. 9, 2015

Mayo pleaded guilty before Judge Todd Edelman. The judge approved a defense attorney’s request for a Youth Rehabilitation Act study for Mayo, who was now 18 years old.

Potter-Cooper had heard of the law before. As a teacher, she had worked with young men who had received the benefit of the law.

“Tell me your thoughts about it,” Cockburn asked her, according to Potter-Cooper’s recollection.

Potter-Cooper said she opposed it in Mayo’s case.

“In some cases, I just feel like it doesn’t work,” she said. “Especially if he’s been in trouble already. At some point and time, you have to be fully responsible for your actions.”

The imitation-weapon plea deal had been infuriating to ­Potter-Cooper. And now, Mayo was up for the Youth Rehabilitation Act.

“It really is a game,” she told The Post.

A victim of armed robbery describes how she felt about the plea deal the assailant was offered under the Youth Rehabilitation Act. (Video: Whitney Shefte/TWP)

A victim’s connection: Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015

It had been six weeks since the car crash, and the Van Goors had not been allowed to see their vehicle.

Finally, on a Wednesday morning, the Van Goors traveled to an impound lot in Southwest Washington to take a look at their totaled Tiguan.

The front end was completely bashed in, and the car reeked of mold.

The Van Goors desperately wanted one item back: Dave’s keychain. It held a small memento in honor of his brother, who had died several years before.

The SUV was full of rubbish: umbrellas, T-shirts, frozen lunches and cologne. The cup holders were filled with cigarette ashes.

They could not find the key chain.

But they did find a debit card, in a side pocket of the SUV. It belonged to a woman named Kimberly Potter-Cooper.

Kristin did a Google search for the woman’s name. She saw that the woman worked as an assistant principal at Center City charter school.

Later that afternoon, Kristin called the school and asked to speak with Potter-Cooper. The two women swapped stories over the phone.

Potter-Cooper told Kristin that prosecutors had already offered Mayo a plea deal for the school robbery. He had accepted it.

Kristin was stunned.

No one from the U.S. attorney’s office had told her anything about a plea offer.

The offer made a reference to Mayo’s crashing the Van Goors’ SUV but guaranteed that he would face no further charges in the incident.

The indictment: Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016

While Joshua Mayo was in the D.C. jail awaiting sentencing, a grand jury impaneled in Prince George’s County indicted him on charges of armed robbery, robbery, first-degree assault, second-degree assault, use of a firearm in a crime of violence, theft and conspiracy.

Meanwhile, jail officials in the District conducted a Youth Rehabilitation Act study ordered by Judge Edelman to see whether Mayo could benefit from rehabilitative treatment.

The results would not be disclosed to the public, but they would be given to Edelman.

Conflicting thoughts: Winter 2016

Potter-Cooper was on the fence about attending the sentencing.

“At the beginning, I was all for it,” she said. “As time went on, the fear set in.”

She refused to go outside for recess. She carried her car keys in her bra. She began carrying a small Taser in her purse.

“He will be able to sleep,” she said of Mayo. “I don’t sleep. I watch my back.”

Cockburn told her, repeatedly, that they desperately needed her voice for Judge Edelman’s consideration at the sentencing.

Potter-Cooper had one request for the prosecutor: If she attended, could she give two books to Mayo?

She wanted to share “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and “Cooked,” the memoir of a prison cook who turned his life around and became a famous casino chef.

Cockburn, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told Potter-Cooper that it would not be possible.

Potter-Cooper did not see the point of attending the sentencing.

No one called the Van Goors to inform them of the sentencing date. They learned of it while researching the case through court records. Kristin planned to show up, mainly because she wanted to see Mayo’s face.

She believed that he was the young man who held a gun to her husband’s head.

But the sentencing was postponed two months, and by that point, the never-ending frustrations had worn her down. She did not attend.

The wife of an armed robbery victim describes her reaction to the lenient sentence the criminal received under D.C.'s Youth Rehabilitation Act. (Video: Whitney Shefte/TWP)

The sentencing: Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On the day of the sentencing, Cockburn apologized to Judge Edelman for Potter-Cooper’s absence.

“I urged the victim to come. And I wanted — unfortunately, she is not here today. I wanted to very briefly describe this person to you,” she said. “The victim is this tiny lady. She only comes up to my shoulder, but she is a spitfire. She is a very lively, engaged woman.”

But Cockburn said that over several months, she saw the victim suffer.

“She speaks to me on the phone and tells me how she’s now, and has been, afraid to even step out of her own building, and she is the assistant principal,” she said. “This is not a woman that is shaken easily, and yet now, she looks over her shoulder, she finds other people to go outside, and she is struggling.”

Cockburn asked for five years prison time. She said the totality of Mayo’s violent crimes should warrant appropriate punishment.

Defense attorney John Fowler, from the Public Defender Service, said the government was too focused on punishment and deterrence rather than rehabilitation. He said Mayo should serve no more than 36 months in prison.

Fowler told the judge that Mayo’s upbringing had been plagued by health problems and difficulties in D.C. public schools. Mayo dropped out of school after the 10th grade, according to court records.

Fowler told the judge that Mayo had suffered from a heart ailment since he was a toddler.

“I don’t think he ever got the support that he needed,” Fowler told the judge.

Fowler said that Mayo had “taken advantage of the very limited opportunities” at the D.C. jail. He was attending classes there five days a week to work toward his GED.

The attorney said he worried that prison would be particularly hard on Mayo. For instance, if Mayo got into a fight, or took a punch to the face, he said that the consequences could be severe.

“He doesn’t have the health of an 18-year-old,” Fowler said. “He doesn’t have the heart of an 18-year-old.”

Judge Edelman asked Mayo whether he would like to say anything.

“I want to say that I apologize for my actions,” Mayo told the judge. “I own up to them. And I don’t want everybody to say I’m a bad person.”

Edelman, who declined to comment for this article, indicated that he was conflicted.

“We have such a young person, who has so much of his life ahead of him and who has arguably been very let down by, for example, our educational system,” he said. “And on the other hand, you have such a chilling act or set of acts here. . . . It’s an armed robbery with a .45-caliber handgun.”

Prosecutors had brought up the links between Mayo and the robbery of Potter-Cooper, the cellphone case and the Van Goor case.

“The government submits that the defendant’s connection to three armed robberies is not a coincidence, and indicates a disturbing pattern of criminal activity by the defendant,” the prosecutor’s sentencing memorandum states.

Edelman acknowledged that there was “some connection” between Mayo and the two other armed robberies in the District. The judge also made reference to the pending Prince George’s armed-robbery case, which could bring a sentence of 10 to 15 years.

Additionally, the judge mentioned that Mayo had a firearm charge in family court, a juvenile matter that was not part of his adult record.

Ultimately, the judge sentenced Mayo to serve 42 months in prison for the armed robbery, with credit for the five months he had already spent in jail.

The sentence was 18 months below the mandatory minimum for armed robberies with real guns. The judge also added six months for the misdemeanor ­stolen-property charge connected to the cellphone armed robbery and shooting, for a total of 48 months.

Edelman granted the defense attorney’s request for Youth Rehabilitation Act status, saying that it was appropriate to treat Mayo as a youthful offender. And, as the judge pointed out, the prosecutor had not objected.

The leniency was infuriating to Potter-Cooper.

Mayo was getting time shaved off, but she would be scared for life. Hell no, she thought. No one is shaving that off for me.

Potter-Cooper eventually left her job at the charter school and moved to an alternative school for young adults. She did it for Joshua, she said.

“I still believe that no one wakes up and just says, ‘This is who I am,’ ” she said. “Somewhere, he was made into this. Somewhere, he has gotten lost. When I looked into Josh’s eyes that day, I saw a kid. I didn’t see a robber.”

She stopped herself.

“Shame on me, maybe,” she said.

A victim of an armed robbery describes the new path she is taking with her career as a result of what happened to her. (Video: Whitney Shefte/TWP)

The aftermath: Summer 2016

Last spring, Mayo was briefly sent to a federal prison in New Jersey, where he began serving his sentence.

This summer, he was extradited to Maryland to face charges in the July 29 armed robberies. Mayo, now 19, pleaded guilty in October to possession of a firearm and two counts of armed robbery and faces between five and 15 years of prison time. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January.

Mayo, through his court-appointed attorney in Maryland, declined to comment for this article.

There have been no charges filed in the armed robbery of Dave Van Goor. The case remains under investigation, according to William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office.

Miller said his office disputes the victims' assertions about their interactions with prosecutors — he said his office had had "extensive communication" with the Van Goor family and contested Potter-Cooper's account that she was upset about the plea deal. But he declined to provide details or make prosecutors available for interviews.

“Generally speaking, we devote considerable time and resources to ensuring that victims are kept informed and heard throughout proceedings, and their views are given strong consideration,” Miller said.

The Van Goors tried to move on with their lives, but the fear and the frustration persisted. They still wanted justice. At a minimum, they thought Mayo should be charged with wrecking their SUV.

“It’s all so frustrating,” Kristin told The Post. “They arrested the man who totaled it. How is he not being held accountable for what he did?”

In June, a family friend wrote a letter on their behalf to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), and to then-D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips.

“The Van Goors’ case is a textbook example of what is wrong with how DC approaches crime, especially how DC approaches violent gun crime,” wrote the friend.

Kristin received phone calls from Lanier and the Van Goors’ representative on the D.C. Council, Charles Allen (D-Ward 6).

On June 13, she met with Phillips and two assistants at the Paul bakery a few blocks from the courthouse.

“I thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention,” wrote Phillips to Kristin in an email the following day.

“We always strive to do better and your comments were insightful and instructive.”

Kristin was encouraged.

Another assistant U.S. attorney, Kacie Weston, soon got in touch with the Van Goors. She had been assigned to review the case. Kristin felt optimistic that prosecutors intended to charge Mayo with felony destruction of property.

At the end of August, Weston called Kristin. Weston said her colleagues did not think they could charge Mayo for totaling the Van Goors’ car. Weston explained that Mayo’s signed admission in the plea deal about the car wreck essentially barred prosecutors from pursuing him on that charge.

Kristin could not believe it. When she tried to respond, her voice started to crack. Her words failed her. She told the prosecutor she had to go.

Choking back tears, she hung up the phone.