WASHINGTON - A weeks-long FOX 5 investigation has revealed that nearly half of the hate crimes against the LGBT community prosecuted in the District end up being dropped by prosecutors or dismissed before trial.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are the largest share of reported hate crimes in the District of Columbia and they are up in 2017 compared to 2016, according to data compiled by the Metropolitan Police Department.
The analysis looked at 43 defendants arrested by D.C. police between 2016 and 2018 for suspected hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity and sought the outcome of the cases.
None of the 43 defendants have been successfully prosecuted under the District's hate crimes law, which allows a sentencing enhancement of 1.5 times the punishment for the underlying crime. The data also show that just 16 percent of those defendants ended up being charged by prosecutors for a hate crime.
Forty-nine percent of the cases were dismissed, either by pre-trial diversion or because the United States Attorney's Office dropped the charges.
LGBT rights advocate and Casa Ruby founder Ruby Corado called FOX 5's findings disappointing.
"It really creates a culture of impunity because people can they know they can come from outside the region and find targets," said Corado.
Casa Ruby is a safe space and drop-in center for LGBT people, many of whom are transgender and homeless. Corado herself has also been a victim of a hate crime.
"I suffered an attack where a person left me for dead in the living room of my own apartment and I didn't even show up for court because I was so wounded," she said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to speak on camera with FOX 5. A spokesman did email a statement saying:
"The U.S. Attorney's Office is committed to investigating and prosecuting individuals who carry out bias-related crimes in the District of Columbia.
"We seek enhancements in cases that we believe will meet the legal threshold in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In order to meet that standard, we must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed a specific criminal act covered by federal or D.C. law and that the crime was motivated by prejudice. In assessing whether the crime was committed because of specific bias, we carefully evaluate factors such as the words used by defendants while committing the crimes, the use of symbols of hatred, patterns of conduct on the part of the defendants, and any other information that indicates that the defendants were motivated in whole or in part by animus against a particular group. We investigate those cases flagged by our law enforcement partners as well as others that come to our attention. As in all of our matters, we make decisions based on the applicable law and the facts and circumstances of each case."
The U.S. Attorney's Office did share that it is currently prosecuting six defendants for hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity and seeking the hate crimes enhancement for sentencing. They include four people accused of robbery and murder after allegedly shooting and killing 22-year-old Deenequa Dodds on July 4, 2016 in Northeast D.C. Dodds was transgender.
Victims can also play a role in the failed prosecution of hate crimes. In one instance in 2016, a man was called a homophobic slur, punched and knocked out inside Union Station. The victim did not want to be identified, but told FOX 5 on the phone he asked prosecutors not to seek a hate crimes charge because he believed the suspect was mentally ill and needed treatment.
Corado and other LGBT advocates believe prosecutors should try harder to seek convictions for hate crimes.
"No one wants to live in a city where you yourself can become a target one day, where a criminal can come and say I will hurt you knowing that nothing will happen," said Corado.