Are Simple Assaults Going Largely Unpunished In DC?

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After a summer filled with violence and a large increase in murders, a Washington, D.C. neighborhood commissioner heard numerous complaints from residents but got few answers from city prosecutors.

Denise Krepp serves as a neighborhood commissioner near Capitol Hill where she said she saw a huge uptick in violent crimes during the hot summer months but the criminals were, for the most part, given free passes by the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO), which has jurisdiction over the city.

Krepp told The Daily Caller News Foundation that several of her constituents came to her to complain about being assaulted or robbed in the past few months. In one instance, an elderly man was walking down the street when a young person came up and punched him in the face.

Since the victim sustained only minor injuries in the altercation, the crime was classified as a “simple assault” and the police all but forgot about the victim.

“They don’t seem to be taking in to account the concerns of the victims,” Krepp said.

In 2014, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Annual Statistical Report, the prosecution rate for misdemeanors which include simple assault cases in D.C. was just 38 percent.

For a large number of simple assault cases, the USAO does not file charges. Krepp said she met with attorneys from USAO last week and it told her a lot of times the office declines to prosecute cases. Krepp detailed her meeting with USAO lawyers in an op-ed for The Hill.

More than half of the cases diverted into pre-trial intervention programs which means there is no record of the crime committed.

Krepp, a former chief council for U.S. Maritime Administration, said that during her meeting with the USAO lawyers they told her the only cases that get diverted before trial are first-time offenders. She said she asked the lawyers how police are supposed to know when a criminal is a first-time offender if the USAO keeps dismissing the charges, but the lawyers couldn’t provide an answer.

“They just blew me off,” she said.

A spokesman for USAO did not return requests for comment for this story.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier attributed the large spike in violence seen over the summer partly to repeat offenders.

“Multiple of our offenders involved in the homicides have previous homicides and are recently back in the community,” Lanier said at an August press conference. “So far this year 10 people involved in homicide have had prior homicide charges. Ten.”

As an example, A man who allegedly stabbed another man on Independence Day had been released from jail the prior day on misdemeanor charges.

Shortly after 12:30 p.m. July 4, Kevin Sutherland entered a train station on his way to meet some friends in the city. Shortly after, another man, Jasper Spires, entered the station and the two waited for the train to arrive.

Once on the train Spires tried to steal Sutherland’s cellphone, but Sutherland resisted and a struggle ensued. Spires allegedly stabbed Sutherland nearly 40 times before rushing off the train at the next stop.

Another man with a violent crime history is accused of shooting at a city bus in August.

Bijon Lamont Brown spent just four months in jail after he shot and wounded two teenagers near a basketball court in his neighborhood, and, just two months after his release from jail in July, police say he fired several shots at a bus full of passengers.

A man was wounded in the incident and taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Still, in September D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a new initiative that would put misdemeanor offenders like those arrested for simple assault back on the streets.

Bowser’s new plan will allow pre-trial inmates incarcerated on misdemeanor charges to leave jail during the day so they can keep working at their jobs while they serve their sentences.

Krepp questioned this plan.

“Why are they repeat offenders?” she asked. “Because we didn’t prosecute them the first time.”

Krepp said she is going to keep bringing the lack of prosecution to the attention of government figures, and if nothing is done, she is going to seek action from House and Senate Judiciary Committees, which oversee the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“I’m just going to keep hounding them,” she said.

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