A 19-year-old man who allegedly attacked a woman outside the Columbia Heights Metro station was charged with a hate crime this week — 10 days, the victim says, after seven police officers refused to take action immediately after the attack.
Christian Washington of Northwest Washington was charged with bias-related assault Tuesday. The police response to the attack, in which five lesbians were attacked by at least two men, attracted scrutiny from members of the city’s gay, lesbian and transgender community after the victims said responding officers refused to take a report.
The attacks came after a July 6 D.C. Council hearing at which Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier agreed to meet with community leaders to soothe grievances over police response to recent bias-related incidents targeting the gay, lesbian and transgender population. Lanier said Thursday that the department will conduct an internal investigation into the officers’ response.
About 3 a.m. July 30, Yazzmen Morse, 21, was leaving the 7-Eleven on 14th Street NW with friends when a group of men outside the store approached them, according to interviews and police charging documents. The five women rejected their advances, said they were lesbians and continued walking toward the Metro station.
The men followed them and yelled homophobic slurs, according to Morse.
“That’s when one of the guys was like: ‘I wanna fight you. Come in this alley. I’m gonna hit you,’ ” Morse recalled. The Washington Post generally does not name victims of crimes unless they give their consent in interviews.
The man swung at her several times, hit her left eye and knocked her to the ground, Morse said. Her head hit the pavement, and she saw another one of the men punching her friends in the face one after another, she said. Morse tried to defend her friends until officers arrived and broke up the fight, she said. The women suffered bruises, facial scratches, cuts and other injuries, according to charging documents. Police are still investigating the case.
None of the seven officers at the scene agreed to take a report, according to several of the women who were interviewed this week. The attackers continued to taunt them even after the officers arrived, the women said, but the police did not intervene.
“I was crying hysterically, my eye was almost closed — swollen — and I was asking the officers, ‘Can you please make a report? They attacked us,’ ” Morse said. “They just told us if we didn’t calm down, they would lock us up for being disorderly or something.”
Morse said that when it became clear that the officers did not plan to take action, she and her friends headed home. Only after Morse’s mother reached out to the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit three days later did the police file a report, Morse said. Charging documents did not mention the victims’ contact with police on Saturday.
“It was crazy. I’ve heard about stuff like this happening, but it was the first time I’ve actually experienced it,” Morse said. “It makes me feel like all of them aren’t there to do their jobs. Before I talked to [an officer from the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit], I thought the police didn’t care at all about us.”
Lanier, who personally apologized to the victims after learning of the incident, said the internal investigation will take about four months. If it shows that the officers wrongfully took no action, she said, they could face termination.
“Our policies are our policies, and from time to time, people don’t follow policy,” Lanier said, adding that she had not spoken directly with the responding officers and that she didn’t think that the victims’ sexual orientation was an issue in the response.
Leaders of the gay, lesbian and transgender community said they feared that the incident would breed more distrust of the police among people already hesitant to turn to authorities.
“This seems to be a systematic problem,” said A.J. Singletary, president of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence. “The leadership can say something, but unless that communication really gets down to officers in the field, it’s just words.”
Singletary said that in a meeting with Lanier on Friday, she said she was “appalled” to hear of how the officers handled the July 30 attacks and attributed their actions to “lazy policing.”
Offenses against gay, lesbian and transgender individuals made up 60 percent of all hate crimes reported in the District between 2005 and 2010, compared with 18 percent nationwide, according to D.C. police and FBI statistics. Last year, 35 crimes were motivated by sexual orientation-related bias.