He was a frail 66-year-old who spoke broken English and told his landlord he had come to the District after domestic problems in Atlanta. For seven years, Awlachew Ayele rented a one-bedroom apartment in a small red-brick building in Trinidad.
Friends told police Ayele sometimes used cocaine, purchased from a dealer who worked the streets outside the Northeast Washington building, according to court documents. But Ayele was soon complaining about his supplier, who he said had turned menacing and had taken over his apartment to stash drugs and guns. Then, last January, Ayele was found dead.
It took nearly a year before police arrested a suspect, which court papers allege was the drug dealer. Police have charged Garrett R. Taylor, 40, of Northeast, with first-degree murder.
The recently filed court documents detail the victim's troubled history with the suspected dealer and police. Authorities said they tried to help Ayele but that he rebuffed their efforts. His landlords said police haven't done enough.
Tensions between Ayele and the dealer came to a head one night last January, the documents say. Ayele and his landlord went to the 5th District police station and told authorities about his situation, saying he had been warned that "if he called the police, he would pay the price."
The next day, Ayele was found dead in his apartment, his body hidden under debris and furniture. He had been beaten and his apartment set on fire, and he died of a combination of trauma and smoke inhalation. Police found an ominous warning scrawled on the apartment wall: "You going down Ayele."
The scrawl was captured by a television camera person for Fox 5. But its apparent meaning wouldn't be understood until last month, when police arrested Taylor.
"The police department failed this man," the apartment owner said of Ayele. "I told them this was a tragedy waiting to happen. I did everything possible. . . . They didn't take it seriously."
The owner spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety. While Taylor is in custody, the owner said others affiliated with the suspect remain in the area and have returned to set up shop near the apartment building. Ayele's family, which appears to live or have lived in the Atlanta area and in Birmingham, Ala., did not respond to interview requests by phone and social media.
The landlord described his attempts to help Ayele by taking him to the police; those contacts are also detailed in the arrest affidavit outlining the allegations against Taylor.
D.C. police Capt. Anthony Haythe, who commands the homicide unit, said authorities offered Ayele assistance. "He declined to be relocated from his current residence," Haythe said.
The captain said he is not sure what, if anything, the suspected drug dealers knew about Ayele's interaction with law enforcement, but he urged those in Ayele's situation "to take advantage" of offers from police or other city officials. "I do understand that some circumstances may prevent some from leaving their residences abruptly," Haythe said. "But my advice is to do so, especially if you think the circumstances could impact your life or your life is in danger."
Of Ayele's death, Haythe said, "It's definitely a tragic situation."
Taylor has been ordered detained until a preliminary hearing in D.C. Superior Court on Jan. 9. Court documents say he was known as "G." His attorney did not respond to requests for an interview.
Court documents say that Ayele and another man started using crack cocaine in early 2016 and allowed a man known as "G" into Ayele's apartment. But toward the end of 2016, the court documents state that "G" forced his way in and then started to "take it over." In January 2017, police said, a man with a gun kicked in Ayele's doors and windows.
On Jan. 25, the building owner said he helped arrange a meeting with police, which authorities confirmed. Police said in court documents it was too dangerous for the owner to get Ayele, so three uniformed officers went to the apartment and escorted Ayele to the meeting.
After the meeting, the affidavit says, Ayele returned to his apartment, where police said he was beaten a short time later.
A friend stopped by and reported finding him on his mattress, bleeding from the mouth, "in pain, and unable to talk." The friend called 911, but he, too, was beaten before help arrived. The friend was taken to a hospital and needed surgery; Ayele declined medical attention.
On the morning of Jan. 26, firefighters responded to the fire and found Ayele's body. Police arrested and charged Taylor with assaulting the friend. Police said in the affidavit that his clothes smelled like soot. Police continued to investigate until filing the murder charge against Taylor in mid-December in connection with Ayele's death.
The Trinidad neighborhood is transforming as home values rise and crime drops, a marked shift from the mid-to-late 2000s, when the neighborhood off Florida and West Virginia avenues was notorious for shootings. In 2009, the former police chief installed military-style checkpoints, a decision a federal appeals court ruled unconstitutional.
But as crime declines broadly, pockets remain. In August, a popular construction worker who was working to renovate rowhouses was fatally shot during a robbery. One of the arrested suspects was a 14-year-old boy.
Ayele was one of four homicide victims in Trinidad in 2017.
The apartment building's owner said the drug dealing all but stopped after Ayele was killed but is now "getting right back to how it was before. . . . Working-class people shouldn't have to fight drug dealers or people passing firearms in the alleys."