Chukwuemeka Ekwonna of Glenn Dale, Md., has taken another step toward learning how many years he will spend in prison. That sentencing date can’t come soon enough.
Ekwonna was convicted this week for soliciting two girls online, ages 14 and 15, and then paying them for sex. Eight other charges were dropped when he agreed to plead guilty to two counts of sex trafficking a minor.
This case stands out because when Ekwonna was exploiting the girls, he was a D.C. police officer.
After he was arrested in April 2017, I wrote a column that laid out Ekwonna’s crimes in greater detail. The piece went on to report the history of other men with D.C. police badges who had also done abominable stuff to girls and young women.
It also pointed out that Ekwonna had been hired into the department even though a pending lawsuit against him charged that he had beaten an inmate at the D.C. jail where he worked as a corrections officer. The city paid $20,000 to settle the case.
At the time of Ekwonna’s arrest, then-acting D.C. police chief Peter Newsham was asked about the circumstances under which Ekwonna was hired. Newsham said the police department was reviewing the matter. The lawsuit “should have been considered,” Newsham said. “I don’t know if it was or wasn’t, but we will look into that.”
But how could he not know? Newsham, who joined the department in 1989, should have been sensitive to the case. He was an assistant chief when Ekwonna was hired as well as during all of the incidents of sexual misconduct by police officers that I cited.
It should be noted that in April 2017, Newsham’s nomination for chief was speeding through the D.C. Council.
I sought an interview with Newsham, but was told to submit my questions via email, which I did on April 12, 2017. Newsham never responded.
Now Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has announced that she is reappointing Newsham as chief.
A less visible but alarming concern: the city’s growing volume of unsolved murders.
Back in 2009, I looked into that issue and found that more than 600 such cases, stretching back many years, were listed on the D.C. police website.
So I asked the D.C. police what the total number of unsolved homicides is today.
It took weeks of waiting for an answer, but with the prod of a Freedom of Information Act request, I received a response last week. It didn’t paint a pretty picture:
From 1991 (a year after cases began to be recorded electronically) to 2018, the number of unsolved homicides in the District totaled 2,553. Quite likely, there are many more unsolved murders dating from further back. Think of it: Assailants by the hundreds are getting away with murder in our city.
Does the police department have a grip on this situation?
So I turned once again to Newsham, seeking his thoughts on the nature and causes of unsolved D.C. murders; his department’s homicide clearance rate; and the capacity of the homicide branch — as currently staffed and deployed — to solve murders.
This time, he answered. In a telephone interview Friday, Newsham said that “homicide is a devastating crime. Not only does it impact immediate families, but entire communities.”
The victim’s family and friends “carry that experience all their lives,” he said. He acknowledged that the impact is especially acute “when the crime is unsolved.”
Not disputing the unsolved homicide total, Newsham said police often “have an idea who the perpetrator might be, but don’t have sufficient evidence to make an arrest.” Their alternative, he said, is to keep watch. “I stress to my officers, and to the public,” Newsham said, “that the only thing we can do as a department is to do our best to close the case.”
He said that the police department’s homicide closure rate hovers around 70 percent, which compares favorably with other urban police departments. Newsham also expressed satisfaction with the homicide branch’s current staffing levels, noting that detectives actually have the entire force at their disposal to help out. “First responders to the scene are also critical to solving homicides,” he stressed.
I returned to the case of Ekwonna, who pleaded guilty this week to sex trafficking girls while he was a D.C. police officer. Newsham had never responded to my 2017 question about why the department had hired Ekwonna when a lawsuit against him was pending in court.
I asked him again. At first he said he didn’t remember. After we hung up, he emailed me, saying he had revisited the question.
“Bottom line, he should never have been hired,” Newsham wrote. “The recruiter in his case failed to follow up on the Civil Suit.”
The answer was a long time in coming, but welcomed. Now, back to the unsolved murders.
Read more from Colbert King’s archive.