Leslie Parsons, assistant chief of the Investigative Services Bureau at the Metropolitan Police Department, holds up a wanted poster for some of the recent crimes in the the District of Columbia. (Ja'Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)
Leslie Parsons, assistant chief of the Investigative Services Bureau at the Metropolitan Police Department, holds up a wanted poster for some of the recent crimes in the the District of Columbia. (Ja'Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)

In the weeks leading up to a D.C. Council’s approval of emergency public safety legislation, a dozen alleged members of the Kennedy Street Crew, also known as KDY, were still navigating the intake process at D.C. Jail under what one of them described as demeaning conditions. 

In a widely circulated Instagram post, a person speaking on behalf of Antonio Reginald Bailey, also known as Fellow King, recounted instances when, during their detainment, Bailey and his co-defendants received cold meals and remained sequestered in their cells for several hours without any recreation time. 

Other allegations centered on the denial of water, showers and tablets needed to contact attorneys, along with taunts by guards who referred to the alleged KDY members as “gangbangers.” 

On June 27, local and federal law enforcement agents arrested the 12 alleged KDY members on several charges, including conspiracy to commit drug trafficking, possession of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking, possession of firearms, assault with a deadly weapon, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

In the process, law enforcement agents said they seized multiple firearms. 

Bailey and 11 other defendants, Kenneth Ademola Olugbenga; Khali Ahmed Brown; Miasiah Jamal Brown; Tristan Miles Ware; Herman Eric-Bibmin Signou; Cameron Xavier Reid, Aaron Deandre Mercer; David Penn, Ronald Lynn Dorsey; Anthony Trayon Bailey; and Angel Enrique Suncar have since been in D.C. Jail. 

Their arrests follow not only several incidents of gun violence that have taken place along the Kennedy Street corridor and surrounding blocks over the past few years, but residents’ complaints about open-air drug markets between First Street and Georgia Avenue in Brightwood Park and Manor Park in Northwest.

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The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recently issued warrants for four other alleged KDY members with charges similar to those levied against their alleged co-conspirators. 

All the while, those who are already detained at D.C. Jail are embarking on a search for answers. 

“We demand to [know] what’s going on and why we are not being treated like other inmates,” the July 8 Instagram post said. “[Correctional] officers [are] harassing us, calling us gangbangers when we all [have] known each other since [we were] kids, and ignoring our demands, such as a little cup of water. If you really love us, repost immediately.” 

D.C. Department of Corrections and Council Member Pinto Respond to Allegations 

D.C. Council member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) forwarded to The Informer a response by D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) Director Thomas Faust to an inquiry she made about conditions at D.C. Jail and the well-being of Bailey and his co-defendants.

In the email, Faust said that he could facilitate a jail visit for Lewis George. He also mentioned that the jail undergoes consistent inspection by DOC staff, DC Corrections Information Council, and the Marshals Service. Faust went on to recount an instance when he and Deputy Director Michelle Wilson communicated with a parent who requested information about her sons’ health at D.C. Jail. 

“I can assure you that we follow established guidelines in the areas you mention:  1) Showers – daily during recreation out of cell times.  2)  Meals – two hot meals are prepared daily at breakfast and dinner meals.  3) Library access – we have mobile library services provided in partnership with DC Libraries and also access to materials through tablets .  4) Recreation – provided daily out of cell,” Faust said in the email.  

On the day of the alleged Kennedy Street Crew members’ arrest, D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), chair of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, hosted a committee hearing about D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Safer, Stronger legislation.

The nearly 12-hour hearing attracted a wide range of voices and, in part, inspired three emergency bills that Pinto submitted last week — the Prioritizing Public Safety Emergency Amendment Act, Law Enforcement Vehicular Pursuit Clarification Emergency Amendment Act, and Office of Unified Communications (OUC) Transparency and Accuracy Emergency Amendment Act. 

The Prioritizing Public Safety Emergency Amendment Act imposes pretrial detention for adults and juveniles accused of armed and unarmed violent crimes, expansion of the security camera rebate program, new felony offenses of strangulation and “endangerment with a firearm,” use of GPS to prove defendants under court supervision guilty of alleged offenses, extradition of those who leave the District after committing misdemeanors, and the extension of liability for certain sexual offenses to contractors. It also directs courts to expedite cases involving young people, and requires that the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council posts data about the process and outcome of court diversion programs. 

The Law Enforcement Vehicular Pursuit Clarification Emergency Amendment Act clarifies the “no chase” laws already on the books so that MPD can authorize its officers to pursue suspects alleged to have committed violent crimes or pose a threat to the community. 

The Office of Unified Communications (OUC) Transparency and Accuracy Emergency Amendment Act, which Pinto co-introduced with D.C. Council members Christina Henderson (I-At large) and Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), requires OUC to post data each month on agency operations, including the number of call takers, dispatch errors and reasons for errors, the number of shifts operating under minimum staffing levels, and the number of 911 calls eligible for diversion and which ones had been diverted. 

When it came to concerns about pretrial detention for violent crimes, Pinto pointed to several instances this year when defendants reoffended after a judge allowed them to await trial from home. 

Pinto too addressed the conditions that alleged Kennedy Street Crew members are facing in D.C. Jail. “It’s imperative that we treat people with dignity and respect,” she said. 

“We are working with the Department of Corrections to make sure there are standardized processes to update HVAC and I have a bill to improve conditions to give people access to fruits and vegetables to pay people a living wage,” she added. 

“It’s important to improve conditions at D.C. Jail to make sure people get a speedy trial. Now that we have many of these hearings happening in person, it helps the courts to speed up the process.” 

Council Member Lewis George’s Words Fall on Deaf Ears

On Tuesday afternoon, the D.C. Council unanimously approved the Law Enforcement Vehicular Pursuit Clarification Emergency Amendment Act and the Office of Unified Communications (OUC) Transparency and Accuracy Emergency Amendment Act. 

By Monday, Pinto said she remained confident that she could secure nine votes for her emergency legislation. She spent the weekend meeting with council colleagues, finalizing the details of the legislation and addressing pressing concerns. She also added slight amendments to the Law Enforcement Vehicular Pursuit Clarification Emergency Amendment Act that turned “suspect” to “suspect or suspects” and clarified the elements needed to legitimize an officer pursuit. 

Lewis George, who championed the original “no chase” legislation in the aftermath of Karon Hylton-Brown’s police-involved murder, described the Law Enforcement Vehicular Pursuit Clarification Emergency Amendment Act as a “technical, but premature” change that came out of a faulty interpretation of the law by MPD’s general counsel. 

In speaking about the vehicular pursuit legislation, D.C. Council Member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) said that helicopters need to be added to the equation to better apprehend suspects. Meanwhile D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At large) questioned why the examples that MPD used to make its case for expanding its vehicular pursuit capabilities — carjackers committing robberies in a stolen vehicle and a six-year-old child taken along during a carjacking — wouldn’t have already met the threshold for a chase.  

After robust debate, the council overwhelmingly approved the Prioritizing Public Safety Emergency Amendment Act by a 12-1 vote. Lewis George was the sole “no” vote. 

Shortly before the council’s vote, Lewis George failed to pass through an amendment to eliminate the adult pretrial detention portion of the legislation. All but one council colleague — D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) — stood against Lewis George. 

Many who approved the Prioritizing Public Safety Emergency Amendment Act said they relished in collaboration to tackle violent crime. Some, like Parker and Henderson, acknowledged that more holistic measures would be needed. 

During a public safety meeting at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center on Monday, Parker said that, overall, he supported Pinto’s efforts, especially after setting out to ensure that juveniles would only receive pretrial detention for select violent crimes. D.C. Council member Matt Frumin (D-Ward 3) built upon that viewpoint, suggesting that qualifications for adult pretrial detention should be narrowed, similar to what Parker had been able to negotiate. 

At Tuesday’s council breakfast, D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At large) stressed that the legislation does not get young people caught up in pretrial detention for possession of a firearm when they hadn’t committed a violent crime, specifically since they secured a weapon out of what she described as their misguided attempt to defend themselves. 

Amendments submitted by D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D- Ward 6) focused on increasing data sharing, zeroing in on neighborhoods most affected by violent crime, and implementing a multi-agency crime deterrence model inspired by recommendations gathered over the last few years. 

While Pinto found Allen’s amendments commendable, she asked him to withdraw them out of deference to her longtime work with the Bowser administration to achieve more permanent crime prevention goals. Later, Allen successfully reintroduced amendments that kept the data collection portion in place and tabled the part dealing with gun violence prevention for the time being.  

Pinto responded a bit more positively to an amendment submitted by D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At large) to better track the flow of guns into the District via data about point of purchase, where guns were used in the District, and number of firearms and ghost guns recovered. She embraced the amendment, noting that White attempted to receive MPD’s buy-in. 

All in all, the pretrial detention portion of the Prioritizing Public Safety Emergency Amendment Act dominated much of the council’s attention. 

During the council breakfast, D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) questioned the timespan between a defendant’s arrest and the completion of a trial, and the circumstances under which that period of time gets extended beyond the 100-day maximum that’s mandated by law. 

By that time, Lewis George had already circulated her amendment striking the adult pretrial detention language in Prioritizing Public Safety Emergency Amendment Act, saying that the matter should be discussed robustly during a council hearing. During the breakfast, she questioned whether the definition of violent crime would become too broad to the point that even first-time offenders get caught up in the web of pretrial detention.   

Lewis George reiterated her points on the dais on Tuesday afternoon, telling her colleagues that the D.C. Council was gleaning from the mass incarceration playbook, much to the detriment of Black people. 

After her failed crusade, Lewis George, a former prosecutor, told The Informer that pretrial detention could be used to pressure defendants into making plea deals. 

“We are talking about changing a legal standard on an emergency basis. It’s irresponsible,” Lewis George told her colleagues on Tuesday. “We’re doing the same thing we did in 1994. We have books and scholarly articles on this. It’s the same reaction. This is how mass incarceration happens. Little by little, bit by bit. It’s us repeating the mistakes of the past.” 

A Polarizing Debate About the Causes of Crime, and How to Address It 

In the days leading up to Tuesday’s hearing, MPD reported 127 homicides for this year, a 19% increase from what had been reported at the same time during the previous year. Reports of sex abuse increased by 35% while assault with a deadly weapon surpassed 700 reports once again. 

Robberies increased by nearly 50% while violent crime overall increased by 30%. Nearly one dozen young people had been killed in the District this year, including cousins Demarcos Pinckney and Kevin Mason.

 In her opening statement during discussion about the Prioritizing Public Safety Emergency Amendment Act, Pinto lamented the possibility of D.C. surpassing 200 murders for the third consecutive year. 

While D.C. Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson (D) expressed support for Pinto’s emergency bills during a press briefing at the John A. Wilson Building on Monday morning, he said the onus lies with law enforcement, and Bowser administration as a whole, to increase the case closure rate, which he estimated as 35% of homicides solved within a year. 

Hours later at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center, Lindsey Appiah, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, and MPD Asst. Chief Leslie Parsons rebuffed that statement, saying that there are many factors to take into consideration when closing cases. They also noted that MPD’s closure rate for violent crime stands above the national average. 

Bowser, in a show of frustration, called Mendelsn’s assessment “asinine,” and challenged him to vote in support of Pinto’s emergency bills. Community members sitting in the gymnasium clapped and cheered on the mayor.  

On Tuesday, shortly before voting in support of Pinto’s legislation, Mendelson once again expressed his frustration that people, including the mayor, unfairly look to the council to solve D.C.’s crime issue. 

At Turkey Thicket, Robbie Woodland, a Ward 8 ANC commissioner and proponent of accountability for offenders, expressed her gratitude for Pinto’s legislation, especially the bill dealing with GPS tracking on people under court supervision. 

On Monday, Woodland told Bowser that juvenile offenders have been able to commit violent crimes, even when wearing ankle bracelets, because court supervision agencies don’t keep track of those who fail to keep their devices fully charged. 

She said that the court system’s negligence has not only affected communities east of the Anacostia River, but other neighborhoods where crime wasn’t as prevalent. “As long as it wasn’t trickling outside of Ward 8, it wasn’t a problem,” said Woodland, commissioner of single-member district 8C06. “It takes people some time to catch up but I’m grateful officials are doing it. At least we get to save some lives.” 

Ron Moten, an active member of D.C.’s violence prevention community for nearly three decades, called Pinto’s legislation a piece of a larger puzzle that must also include support for offenders and their family members from the very moment they first come into contact with the court system. 

Moten, one of the several witnesses who spoke before the D.C.. Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary last month, touted pretrial detention as essential for those who won’t change their behavior otherwise. 

“ We went from one extreme to another,” Moten said in reference to police reform in recent years. “People who are getting these long sentences said they wished someone slowed them down.”

Upon his visit to the John A. Wilson Building on Tuesday, activist and prayer warrior Rocky Twyman had words of advice for District leaders grappling with what he described as forces well beyond the physical realm. 

“We’re dealing with supernatural, demonic forces and the D.C. Council is using natural forces to solve crime and violence,” said Twyman, a Rockville, Maryland resident and leader of Pandemic Comforters, an organization that leads public prayers. 

“There needs to be more prayer and fasting. We hope that the D.C. Council and Mayor Bowser will implement days of prayer and fasting in the District. We hope that this will spread in the D.C. metropolitan area.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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