DC’s US Attorney Grilled by ANC6B Reps on Rape Stats, Small Crimes & the Injustice of “Simple Assault”
by Larry Janezich
Last Tuesday night, US Attorney for the District, Jesse Liu, appeared before ANC6B. Liu, on the job just six months, brought half a dozen of her staff, including Doug Klein, Community Prosecutor for the MPD’s First District.
Liu said that her office – the largest US Attorney’s office in the nation – has 300 attorneys and prosecutors and an equal number of non-attorney staff. As both the local and federal prosecutor for DC, the office deals with local prosecutions extending from misdemeanor drug possession and murders to federal prosecutions on child porn, gangs, financial fraud, and terrorism.
Liu said the office focuses on violent crime and develops strategies to reduce and prevent violent crime. She said she was committed to interacting with the community.
Liu took questions from the Commissioners and first out of the gate was Commissioner Denise Krepp, who rose from her chair to say, “I’m here because I want to ask you if you’re going to respond to my letter of February 8 regarding statistics on prosecution of rapes. Do you plan on answering my letter to find out how many campus rapes have been prosecuted?” Krepp explained that she had had to sue DOJ to get information that 1 out of 48 college campus rapes had been prosecuted, only to have those figures questioned by the District’s US Attorney’s office at a panel discussion of rape which she monitored at George Washington University.
Liu told Krepp that she hadn’t seen the letter and would take a look at it. Klein reminded Krepp that US Attorneys who attended the GWU panel had informed her that sex complaints are reviewed by two senior prosecutors independently – they look at the evidence, the cooperation of the victim, what is provable in court, and what they can present to a grand jury. “Statistics,” he said,” don’t reflect how cases are reviewed” and “as prosecutors we are ethically responsible to review and prosecute or not”.
For Krepp, the bottom line is that “There are multiple rapes going on in DC and I’m not willing to let the Department of Justice not prosecute them.”
Klein said we will review this and “definitely get back in touch.” ANC Chair Dan Ridge closed the discussion, asking Krepp to inform the ANC whether she had received a reply by the next meeting.
Up next, Commissioner Jennifer Samolyk told Liu she was concerned that too often MPD seems to be “going through the motions” regarding misdemeanor arrests and once suspects are arrested they are quickly back on the streets. Liu told Samolyk that the standard for an arrest by MPD is “probable cause” – while the standard for prosecution is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Samolyk said that “these small cases are important because they are the ones we deal with on an everyday basis – every day of our lives.” Liu pointed out that in most cases where a crime is committed by a juvenile, it is prosecuted by the DC Attorney General’s office.
Commissioner James Loots backed up Samolyk’s concern, citing patters of smaller crimes, noting that in one case MPD arrested 12 individuals in his single member district which resulted in no prosecutions. The pattern of crime, he said, continued. Loots added that the smaller less high-profile crimes significantly affect the quality of life, and suggested that selective prosecution of misdemeanors might have an effect on an issue which is important for the community.
Commissioner Chander Jayaraman raised the issue of what constitutes “simple assault,” citing his personal experience having been mugged – suffering a broken nose – outside his own house. He was surprised to see the attack classified by MPD as a “simple assault.” Klein went through the categories of assault, noting that simple assault can include everything from being spit on to being hit in the face. Felony assault generally involves a significant injury and hospital stay. Klein said the definition of simple assault is “a term of art,” pleading that “these definitions precede me.” Another attorney from the US Attorney’s office interjected that the classification of an assault depends on the circumstances – witnesses, search issues, the jury – “it’s a very fact specific inquiry.”
ANC6B Chair Dan Ridge followed up, wondering why simple assaults don’t go into the daily crime reports. Klein said that was an MPD statistics issue.
In a related matter, Ridge raised the issue of the nature of “simple assault” at MPD’s Sector 2 (PSAs 104, 107, 108) meeting in Southeast Library on Thursday night. Captain John Knutsen, MPD, Sector 2, reinforced the position of the U.S. Attorneys at the ANC6B meeting two nights earlier, on how much the classification of an assault depends on the ability of the victim to identify his or her attacker. In attendance at the meeting were two mothers whose children had been “beat up” recently by other students near Potomac Avenue Metro. Another mother was present to ask about the lack of an MPD alert regarding a group of up to 20 students who had attacked her son near 10th and North Carolina Avenue. Her son had been rescued, she said, by a “hero” – a nearby public utility worker. The woman spoke for all of the mothers and others at the meeting, asking “What can be done?”
Ridge pushed for MPD to put all crimes – including simple assault – on the firstname.lastname@example.org notices to the community listservs, a suggestion endorsed by others at the meeting. One person emphatically agreed, saying she would rather know about a (currently-unreported simple assault) than a “shoplifting at CVS.”
Knutsen, said he would explore the broader use of the MPD Alerts and offered to share additional information regarding the classification of assaults. He did allow that “Right now, whatever’s happening is not working” – apparently referring to MPD’s inability to address misdemeanors like simple assault, owing to the technical issues governing the classification of the crime.