“They have a history of picking up firearms and using them,” Newsham told reporters, remarks that later drew criticism from two defense attorneys. “As we have warned, there needs to be consequences for illegal firearms, and now they have taken the life of an 11-year-old boy.”
After another shooting two weeks later killed one man and wounded eight others in Columbia Heights, Newsham said half of “the people that are involved in homicides in our city had been previously arrested with a firearm.” He added, “If we could have held [them] accountable the first time, maybe this stuff wouldn’t keep happening.”
Newsham has argued for years that gun offenders his officers arrest time after time skip through the judicial system with little consequence and are driving the District’s rising homicide count. He says gun offenders have a high rate of recidivism.
An examination of the prior arrests of the suspects highlighted by the chief show the complexities that drive decisions in such criminal cases. Prosecutors dismissed a gun case against one of the men after a judge ruled key evidence inadmissible because of questions over the legality of the police stop. The two other men were sent home as they awaited trial on gun possession charges, one after his attorney cited concerns about being jailed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Arun G. Rao, a former assistant U.S. attorney for Maryland, said he gets why it exasperates police to rearrest the same people but that prosecutors and judges must consider many issues.
“The chief’s frustration is understandable, and I think a lot of that frustration is justified,” said Rao, who was chief of the Southern Division of the federal prosecutor’s office in Greenbelt. “The circumstances on the ground are consistent with what the chief has identified as a problem — people are having repeated encounters with the system, and yet they are still on the street.”
But Rao said “there are other factors that also come into play,” such as the circumstances of an arrest and a defendant’s criminal history, along with prior assessments of a defendant’s risk of flight and potential danger to the community.
Defense attorneys for two of the men Newsham mentioned took exception to the chief’s comments, noting their clients have the presumption of innocence in pending cases.
“It would seem extreme to detain everybody who is accused of a gun crime,” said Jonathan Zucker, an attorney for Christian Wingfield, 22. “Police make mistakes in charges all the time. Cases are dismissed. Cases are dropped.”
Zucker added, “Are we supposed to detain everybody who had a conviction and who is accused of gun possession, because of what they might do?”
Davon was shot at the end of a Fourth of July stop-the-violence cookout in the Frederick Douglass Garden apartments on Cedar Street SE. Police said five men who lived in or had ties to the neighborhood fired at people they thought were from a rival crew.
A bullet struck Davon in the head as he walked to a relative’s residence to pick up ear buds and a cellphone charger. His mother cradled him until he was taken to a hospital, where he died. Police have charged four men with first-degree murder. Two — Wingfield and Daryle Bond, 18, of Southeast — are in custody. Carlo General, 19, and Marcel Gordon, 25, are being sought.
Gordon, who lives in Southeast, was arrested in 2016 and charged with carrying a pistol without a license and possessing an unregistered firearm. Prosecutors dismissed the case after a judge ruled police should not have stopped Gordon in the first place.
Police said in reports that they saw Gordon on Cedar Street and that he “appeared to freeze in place” when he saw the patrol car. Suspicious, officers approached Gordon, they said, and noticed a jacket pocket appeared to be weighed down by a heavy object. Another officer said he saw what appeared to be the butt of a handgun in the pocket.
Gordon ran but was quickly arrested, and police seized a .40-caliber handgun.
Gordon’s attorney, Kyle A. McGonigal, said in court pleadings that police had no legal reason to confront his client, that Gordon was “merely about to enter a vehicle when police approached and seized him.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan E. Norman argued that police did not “seize” Gordon and they only wanted to have a conversation with him. Norman noted Gordon “voluntarily” lifted his shirt as officers approached, to try to show he did not have a weapon.
That, the prosecutor said, allowed an officer to see the jacket pocket and it was then the other officer saw the butt of the gun. “The defendant’s claims are meritless,” Norman wrote. “The firearm taken from the defendant’s jacket was lawfully seized.”
The judge agreed with the defense.
General, who was convicted of assault and burglary in Virginia, was arrested in February 2019 in the District and charged with carrying a handgun without a license. Police said they had a tip he carried a weapon and arrested him after patting him down on Cedar Street, on the same block Davon was later shot. They said they found a gun loaded with 20 bullets.
General’s attorney on the firearms charge, Sweta B. Patel, challenged the arrest, arguing the tip was in fact from social media posts from other people discussing her client. Prosecutors argued the tip was sound because the posts included pictures of General with a gun.
Patel said a hearing on the motion was delayed because of the pandemic, and the judge has not yet ruled.
General was charged in a warrant in Davon’s killing and remains at large.
Patel said she believes that “D.C. Superior Court judges are excellent at looking at all the facts and looking into the least restrictive methods of keeping the public safe.” Judges, not the police chief, “are in the best position to make those decisions,” Patel said.
Wingfield, who lives in Hillcrest Heights, Md., was caught in 2017 with a loaded, unregistered handgun in his jacket pocket at the Frederick Douglass Garden apartments. The then-19-year-old pleaded guilty and spent six months behind bars.
In April, police said, they caught Wingfield with another handgun. He was a passenger in a vehicle that police said they stopped for going the wrong way on a one-way street. Police said they found the gun while patting him down.
Prosecutors charged him with being a felon in possession of a firearm, which could send him to prison for a decade.
Newsham, asked at the news conference why Wingfield had been freed awaiting trial, said, “That’s a question we all need to wrap our head around.”
The decision came after Wingfield’s attorney in the gun case, Evan A. Parke, argued in court papers that his client did not “pose a reasonable risk to the community.” Parke noted that Wingfield’s prior gun offense and his pending case did not “involve acts of violence.”
Court papers say Wingfield suffers from asthma and had a spinal-cord injury from being shot in the neck in 2016. Those conditions place Wingfield “at risk for grave consequences from coronavirus,” Parke said during a May 22 hearing in D.C. Superior Court, according to a transcript.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Bartz argued against releasing Wingfield, saying that the charges presume “effect of dangerousness” and that “these medical conditions weren’t so serious at the time the defendant was arrested to prevent him from having a loaded gun.”
Superior Court Judge Todd Edelman, a former public defender, noted the charging papers reference “some facts that could lead to a belief the defendant also discharged a firearm on an earlier occasion.”
Edelman was referring to an allegation by police, who said in charging papers that they had a photo showing Wingfield shooting a gun on Cedar street, though no one was hit.
The judge noted that Wingfield had not been charged with firing a gun in his prior or pending case.
Edelman said he agreed Wingfield had medical conditions that “make him more vulnerable to the effects of both coronavirus and covid-19.” He also added, “I do believe that what’s been presented here is enough to rebut any statutory presumption of dangerousness.”
A request to interview Edelman was denied. A court spokeswoman said the judge is barred by the code of ethics from comment on pending cases.
The judge put Wingfield on the strictest form of supervision available, the High Intensity Supervision Program. He was ordered to home confinement and had to wear an ankle GPS bracelet to track his movements. He also was also ordered to stay away from Cedar Street.
Court files note that GPS puts Wingfield on Cedar Street at 8:47 p.m. on July 4 and shows him exiting at 9:36 p.m. Davon was shot at 9:17 p.m. Newsham said Wingfield cut off the GPS device after the shooting; court records show a tamper alert sent at 1:18 a.m. July 5.
Police said one .45-caliber bullet casing found at the scene has been linked to casings found at the sites of several other violent acts, including the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old woman in June, and four other discharges dating to the fall of 2019.