GLAA objects to lenient treatment of aggressive panhandler
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United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia

GLAA on Public Safety

GLAA objects to lenient treatment of aggressive panhandler

[After sending the following letter on January 24, we learned that the aggressive panhandler in question, Leroy Thomas, had been captured on videotape violating the terms of his probation. The tape was provided to the U.S. Attorney. Washington Blade reporter Lou Chibbaro informed us on January 25 that the U.S. Attorney's office filed a motion in court on January 24 asking the judge in the case to hold a show-cause hearing to consider whether Thomas's probation should be revoked. The motion was signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Szilagyi, the prosecutor who agreed to the plea arrangement on January 11. This is a welcome development, though it is unfathomable how the U.S. Attorney's Office could have required yet another violation by Mr. Thomas to face up to his already well-demonstrated incorrigibility. We will await with interest the results of the show-cause hearing. We also look forward to seeing evidence that the U.S. Attorney will not require nine offenses in future such cases before treating the offender seriously.]

[Update February 6, 2002: In Superior Court on February 5, 2002, Judge Ross sentenced Mr. Thomas to 180 days less time served, so he will be on the street again in about 5 months. There will be no stay-away order in effect then. According to someone who attended the hearing, the U.S. Attorney was only going to seek a one-month sentence, but the judge made it 180 days after Thomas lied and claimed that the police had kidnapped him, forcibly taken him to the Unit Block of O Street SE, and then videotaped him to show him in violation of the stay-away order. While it's good that Mr. Thomas is getting some jail time, this case does not reflect well on the U.S. Attorney's Office. Their behavior has consistently reflected the basic political reality that they don't work for us. Many thanks to Sergeant Parson and Officer McMurry of the Metropolitan Police Department's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit for their good work on this.]

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
P.O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013

January 24, 2002

Hon. Roscoe C. Howard, Jr.
United States Attorney for the District of Columbia
Judiciary Center
555 Fourth Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001

RE: D.C. Superior Court Docket numbers M13999-01, M13998-01, M13098-01, M12009-01, M08127-01, M07811-01, M07769-01

Dear Mr. Howard:

We are extremely concerned about your office's disposition of the above-referenced Superior Court cases involving a defendant by the name of Leroy "Pops" Thomas. In the last six months, Mr. Thomas was arrested on eight occasions for his aggressive panhandlng in the area of the Unit Block of O Street Southeast (where many gay clubs are located), and for contempt of court for violating stay away orders. One of his arrests was for assault. On January 11, 2002, your office entered into a plea agreement with Mr. Thomas in which he pled guilty to two contempt charges in return for dropping all other charges. He was sentenced to probation, and only ordered to stay away from a one-block radius of the area this time, instead of the previous five to ten blocks.

We feel that Mr. Thomas has been treated more leniently than most in plea and sentencing recommendations. Since passage of the aggressive panhandling law, we have seen violations taken seriously in other parts of town. Members of our community who patronize the clubs on O Street deserve the same level of protection.

Metropolitan Police Sergeant Brett Parson has repeatedly offered his services to the Assistant U.S. Attorneys in your office to ensure that witnesses are ready and available for Mr. Thomas' court appearances so that minimal pleas can be avoided. To our knowledge, no one in your office has utilized Sergeant Parson in this manner. He is trying hard to clean up the area fairly and professionally. Mr. Thomas' incorrigibility and disrespect for the law and the judicial system should by now be clear to all.

We believe that your office bears the primary responsibility for failing to rein in Mr. Thomas, since judges normally give great weight to the prosecutor's assessment of any particular defendant.

Within the next few weeks we will seek a meeting with Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Higashi, Chief of your Misdemeanor Section, to discuss the Thomas matter. We hope that you will look into this matter beforehand so that the meeting can be productive. If the meeting is not productive, we will request a subsequent meeting with you to voice our concerns. We are hopeful that, with your input and attention to this matter, our concerns can be resolved through Ms. Higashi.

We ask that you confer with Ms. Higashi and review Mr. Thomas' history and lenient disposition of his cases. We will inform you of the outcome of our meeting with Ms. Higashi, assuming we are able to schedule it. We take Mr. Thomas' behavior very seriously, and want a commitment from your office to do the same.


Bob Summersgill

cc: Mayor Anthony Williams
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton
D.C. Councilmembers
Chief Charles Ramsey
Kelly Higashi, Chief, Misdemeanor Section
Sergeant Brett Parson
The Washington Post
The Washington Blade
Washington City Paper

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