Amid community pressure, Arlington County is taking a closer look at ways to improve safety in Green Valley.
Some residents are pushing for more action from the county on two fronts: dealing with nuisances and more actively policing criminal activity. In response to the mounting concerns, an internal county workgroup is beginning to meet this week to find ways to do just that.
The nuisances are related to drinking and smoking as well as public urination and loud music associated with some of the people who hang out around the John Robinson, Jr. Town Square, neighbors tell ARLnow. The criminal issues relate to gun violence, which some neighbors tie to the unaddressed open-air substance use.
Throughout the day, people can be seen hanging out in the area. Yesterday (Tuesday), for instance, ARLnow observed a handful of people sitting in folding chairs outside of The Shelton, an affordable housing building, while two other groups were congregated in the town square, talking and listening to music.
Neighbors, including Yordanos Woldai, say they don’t have an issue with people hanging out. They just want people not to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana outdoors, urinate in public or play music during quiet hours.
“Having lived in Arlington for such a long time, I am not aware of any other residential neighborhood where this conduct is allowed to happen in plain sight and not be addressed by the police,” Woldai tells ARLnow. “Children have to walk on the streets at times because there is no way to pass and there are broken beer bottles on sidewalks and grass.”
A few of the people hanging out told ARLnow that nearly everyone on the square yesterday likely came from outside Green Valley to this area to be together. Many grew up in the neighborhood but have since moved away.
One man, who appeared to be drinking beer from a plastic cup, put his hand out close to the ground and raised it up slowly to show how much of early childhood, marked in growth spurts, he spent in the neighborhood.
“They feel they are very much part of the community,” Woldai said. “I love the idea that people come to Green Valley to connect with old friends… It’s the illegal activities that are bothersome.”
Woldai addressed the Arlington County Board on Saturday about her concerns and said she had the support of 37 neighbors. This includes Lily Bozhanova, a Bulgarian immigrant who has lived in the area for five years with her family.
“My children are 5 and 7-year-olds. We often go to the spray park there and I sometimes have to explain to my children why they see people smoke or drink plein air. It’s not good but they see it every day and it’s a deterrent for going in the area,” she told ARLnow.
Bozhanova says she tries to avoid the area in the evening and lately Googled whether bullets can pass through brick.
“I shouldn’t be looking up to see whether my house can sustain gunshots. Brick is relatively safe, by the way,” she said.
Although she is grateful for the life she has built, she says, “it’s not exactly the American Dream we were trying to achieve moving here.”
Frank Duncan, a longtime resident of The Shelton (3215 24th Street S.) said he was shot last summer. A relative was also shot not long after.
“That’s the story about the life we live here,” he said.
Still, he said he cannot move away because it will be hard to find space in another low-income apartment building. He says he does what he can to promote safety in part by volunteering as a crossing guard for Drew Elementary School students.
Woldai ties the shootings to the nuisance issues.
“When people know there isn’t really a police presence in a neighborhood where you can drink and smoke marijuana, it attracts more serious crimes,” she said. “That has been a serious concern for residents living near the town square.”
A 23-year-old Minnesota woman is facing a pair of charges after police say she drunkenly threw a bottle at a passing car.
The incident happened around 5:45 p.m. yesterday (Tuesday) in Pentagon City, at the intersection of 12th Street S. and S. Hayes Street, near the Metro station entrances.
“Police were dispatched to the report of a possible intoxicated subject walking in and out of traffic,” Arlington County police said today in a crime report. “Upon arrival, it was determined the female suspect allegedly threw a bottle at the windshield of a passing vehicle.”
“Responding officers located the suspect on scene, took her into custody and she was evaluated by medics,” the crime report adds. “No injuries or property damage were reported. [The suspect], 23, of Brainerd, MN was arrested and charged with Throwing a Missile at an Occupied Vehicle and Public Intoxication. She was held without bond.”
A 41-year-old man is in jail after police say he used a brick in an early morning robbery attempt.
The incident happened around 2 a.m. in Crystal City. Police say the man stood in front of a car, demanded cash from those inside, then bashed the car with the brick “multiple times” before the victims were able to flee.
Police responded and took a suspect into custody.
From today’s Arlington County Police Department crime report:
ATTEMPTED ROBBERY, 2023-05070025, 1600 block of Crystal Drive. At approximately 2:02 a.m. on May 7, police were dispatched to the report of a destruction of property. Upon arrival, it was determined the victims were inside their vehicle attempting to leave the area when the male suspect allegedly approached, stood in front of the vehicle while holding a brick, and demanded money. The suspect struck the vehicle multiple times with the brick before the victims were able to leave the area. No injuries were reported. Responding officers canvassed the area, located the suspect, and took him into custody without incident. [The suspect], 41, of No Fixed Address, was arrested and charged with Destruction of Property, Attempted Robbery, and Abduction. He was held without bond.
Also in today’s crime report: another incident of teens running after an alleged vehicle-related crime.
This incident happened around 9:30 p.m. in Pentagon City, and involved five juvenile male suspects fleeing on foot before all being apprehended, according to ACPD.
ATTEMPTED GRAND LARCENY AUTO (Significant), 2023-05060271, 1400 block of S. Joyce Street. At approximately 9:24 p.m. on May 6, police were dispatched to the report of a vehicle tampering. Upon arrival, an officer observed approximately five juvenile suspects allegedly tampering with two vehicles, one of which had a smashed rear window. The officer attempted to make contact with the suspects, during which they fled the scene on foot. Officers initiated foot pursuits, located the five juvenile male suspects and took them into custody. Two suspects sustained minor injuries and were treated by medics. Petitions are pending for the juvenile suspects.
Additionally, there were two separate incidents of alleged gun brandishings, both along Columbia Pike over the weekend. One involved an implied gun and the other a BB gun, according to police.
BRANDISHING, 2023-05060148, 900 block of S. Dinwiddie Street. At approximately 12:29 p.m. on May 6, police were dispatched to the report of a brandishing. Upon arrival, it was determined the suspect approached the two victims, allegedly physically assaulted Victim One and made threatening statements implying he had a firearm before leaving the scene. The victim reported minor injuries and did not require medical attention on scene. During the course of the investigation, the suspect returned to the area and was taken into custody without incident. [The suspect], 25, of Arlington, Va. was arrested and charged with Brandishing and Assault and Battery. He was held without bond.
BRANDISHING, 2023-05070094, 4800 block of Columbia Pike. At approximately 12:13 p.m. on May 7, police were dispatched to the report of a person with a gun. Upon arrival, officers located the suspect on scene and took him into custody without incident. The investigation determined the suspect approached the known victim, told him to leave the area and when the victim refused, the suspect allegedly brandished a firearm. Officers recovered a BB gun on scene. No injuries were reported. [The suspect], 44, of No Fixed Address, was arrested and charged with Brandishing and Disorderly Conduct. He was held without bond.
An employee of the Arlington County Public Defender’s Office appears to have been duped into smuggling drugs into the local jail.
An apparent misunderstanding over recent changes to the delivery of personal mail could have contributed to the advocate’s arrest, according to her boss, Chief Public Defender Brad Haywood.
Last month, a 32-year-old woman was arrested and charged with unauthorized delivery in jail in connection with an offense that allegedly occurred in mid-February, per court records. The employee reportedly delivered papers to the jail in her capacity as an investigator for the Public Defender’s Office, but the papers — unbeknownst to her — had been soaked in drugs. The delivery also circumvented a new jail policy.
The case was transferred to the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney to prosecute.
“We had to get a special prosecutor for that because of a potential conflict of interest,” Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti said. “Loudoun handled that and it would be inappropriate for me to have been involved in the decision making.”
Two sources confirmed to ARLnow that the court quickly granted a prosecutor’s motion to dismiss the charges. This was done on the grounds that she lacked knowledge that she delivered contraband to the jail. Loudoun’s Commonwealth’s Attorney did not respond to requests for comment before publication time.
Charges are still pending for another woman in connection to this case. Cassandra Bertrand, 30, was arrested and charged with the distribution of and conspiracy to distribute Schedule I/II drugs. She is also charged with two counts of delivering drugs to a prisoner.
When asked about this case, a spokeswoman for the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the jail, provided the names and charges for the two defendants but declined to comment further.
“To ensure the integrity of the ongoing criminal investigation and prosecution, additional details are not available for release,” spokeswoman Amy Meehan said.
Closing the mail drug smuggling loophole
Like detention facilities around the country, the Arlington County Detention Facility is combatting a relatively new way of smuggling drugs inside: mail.
Personal correspondence is dipped in or sprayed with a synthetic drug and sent to the inmate, who smokes it or tears up the paper and sells bits to others.
This method has been around for several years, per a 2016 Washington Post article, but a recent spate of such smuggling attempts have received media attention this year. There were instances in Chicago, in Massachusetts and on Riker’s Island in New York City, where love letters and cards from children were soaked in fentanyl.
In the Arlington case, law enforcement sources tell ARLnow the letter was coated in a synthetic cannabinoid called nicknamed “K2” or “Spice.” The chemical name, ADB-Butinaca, is identified by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule I drug.
“The jail is aware this is a new trend and as of February 1st, we use a third-party digital mail center to scan all incoming, personal mail which is then forwarded to the inmates’ tablets,” Meehan said.
Per a notice she shared with ARLnow, all mail addressed to inmates must be sent to a post office box in Missouri. The policy for legal mail, however, has not changed.
Legal mail is a broad category that can encompass papers that — to the Sheriff’s Office — look an awful lot like personal mail. In this case, printed copies of photos were shared with the client because they would be entered into the record in the inmate’s upcoming court appearances.
The photos, which are called “mitigation materials” in the legal community, are intended to humanize the person facing a potential sentence. But it may not have looked that way to the Sheriff’s Office.
The District of Columbia’s attorney general has responded to a scathing letter to D.C. officials sent by Virginia AG Jason Miyares (R).
Miyares suggested that the District is soft on crime, endangering Virginia residents who visit as well as neighboring jurisdictions like Arlington. The letter was sent as “a direct response to the tragic murder of Christy Bautista,” an Arlington woman stabbed to death in a D.C. hotel room, allegedly by a man with an extensive criminal history.
In reply, D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb (D) penned a lengthy letter asking Miyares “for help to stop illegal gun trafficking into DC,” noting that “Virginia is the largest source of illegal firearms recovered here,” per a spokeswoman. Additionally, the letter points out that Virginia cities like Richmond have “experienced increased crime rates substantially higher than the national average.”
Schwalb goes on to highlight that serious crimes in the District are prosecuted in the federal court system. The D.C. court is overloaded and understaffed, resulting in delays and a “public safety crisis,” Mayor Muriel Bowser has previously asserted.
“I also invite you to join me and Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown in advocating for DC’s autonomy over our local criminal justice system,” Schwalb wrote. “As a fellow attorney and attorney general, I know you can understand how difficult it is for a community to improve public safety when it lacks meaningful control over its criminal justice system.”
Schwalb’s letter was sent prior to today’s mass shooting at a Northeast D.C. funeral home and stabbing on a Metro train at the Columbia Heights station.
update: FOUR PEOPLE SHOT OUTSIDE FUNERAL HOME — 4000 blk Benning Rd NE DC. Two men and two women were shot (one of the four is critical). Happened after a funeral. Another man with graze wounds at 4300 blk F St but he says he was shot there on F St. pic.twitter.com/3S2MeUzV1n
— Alan Henney (@alanhenney) April 11, 2023
The full letter is below.
Attorney General Miyares:
As the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, I share the frustration and anger regarding senseless killings and violent crime expressed in your April 6 letter to local District leaders. No issue is more important to the more than 700,000 residents of the District than enhancing public safety and preventing violent crime. Just like people in Richmond, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Newport News — each of which has experienced increased crime rates substantially higher than the national average over the past several years — residents of and visitors to Washington, D.C. deserve to feel safe and be safe.
Promoting public safety should be a bipartisan endeavor, not fodder for divisive political grandstanding. Developing and implementing practical solutions that will make our communities safer, now and in the long run, requires thoughtful, data-driven analysis and comprehensive, collaborative strategies. While there are several unsupported assertions and conclusions in your April 6 letter with which I disagree, I do agree with your observation that the proximity of our respective jurisdictions means that enhancing public safety is a regional issue which we must address cooperatively. To that end, I hope you will support efforts to improve public safety in the DMV region.
Improving public safety begins with curbing gun violence. As a necessary first step, we need to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who intend to cause harm. In communities around our country—urban, suburban, and rural—the presence of illegal guns is far too pervasive. Gun trafficking patterns remain remarkably consistent year to year from state to state, and most firearms recovered in the District originate in Virginia. According to the two most recent trace data reports from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Virginia is, by far, the source state for the most illegal firearms recovered in DC. Virginia is the source for nearly four times the number of illegal firearms recovered in the District than the next leading source state, Maryland, which has stricter gun laws. In 2020, of the 1,580 illegal firearms recovered in the District, 667 originated in Virginia. In 2021, Virginia was the source state for 619 of the 1,574 illegal firearms recovered in the District. By contrast, the District was the source for only 58 and 67 of the illegal firearms recovered in 2020 and 2021.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) has sent a scathing letter to D.C.’s mayor and city council today, accusing them of jeopardizing public safety due to lax law enforcement.
The letter follows the stabbing death of an Arlington woman in a D.C. hotel room this past weekend. The Yorktown High School alum was pronounced dead in the room and the suspect, a 43-year-old man with an extensive criminal history, was taken into custody and charged with murder.
The suspect was released from jail by a judge this winter following an alleged armed robbery in October, NBC 4 reported.
“The letter is a direct response to the tragic murder of Christy Bautista over the weekend,” the Attorney General’s office said in a press release that also accuses D.C. officials of an “inability and refusal to enforce their public safety laws and address their crime spike.”
In the letter, Miyares writes that “due to the proximity of our communities, D.C.’s crime problem has become Virginia’s crime problem.”
Republicans in Congress have been on the offensive against D.C.’s government, accusing the District of being soft on crime.
With Democratic votes and President Biden’s signature, a D.C. crime bill that reduced the maximum sentence for carjacking, among other changes, was overturned last month. Meanwhile, GOP members grilled D.C. officials on crime during a House committee hearing last week.
There’s some debate over the actual direction of crime rates in the District, with news headlines this year like “Crime in D.C. dropped in 2022” and “Despite Falling Violent Crime, Some Adams Morgan Residents Say They Feel Less Safe” contrasting with “After violent weekend, D.C. homicides up 40 percent over last year.”
Miyares’ full letter is below.
Dear Mayor Bowser and City Council Members:
It has become painfully apparent that Washington, D.C., can protect neither its residents nor the thousands of Virginians who commute daily to the city for work or entertainment. As the chief law enforcement officer for the Commonwealth of Virginia, I feel responsible for the safety of all 8.642 million Virginians.
Unfortunately, due to the proximity of our communities, D.C.’s crime problem has become Virginia’s crime problem.
I refuse to stand by quietly as you continue to deny, reject, and refuse to address your very prevalent crime spike that is impacting D.C. residents and its visitors and commuters. Your unwillingness to enforce your laws and hold violent offenders responsible puts your residents and mine at risk.
Over the weekend, Christy Bautista, an innocent young woman from Virginia, was murdered in the supposed safety of her hotel room less than an hour after checking in to attend a concert in your city. A Capitol Hill staffer was brutally attacked in broad daylight. Over the summer, a young Arlington woman was harassed on the metro, and countless Virginians have been murdered in D.C. over the last three years, including Aaron Bourne, Kenithy Manns, Christian Gabriel Monje, and Ahmad Clark.
Yet, D.C. Council Chairman Mendelson recently denied that D.C. had a crime crisis. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, D.C. has seen two consecutive years of over 200 homicides — a distinction the city hasn’t reached in nearly two decades. In addition, carjackings have been steadily rising for the last five years. Homicides in Washington, D.C., have increased by 31% since this time last year, sexual assault increased by 84%, and motor vehicle theft has increased by 107%. In general, crime in 2023 has risen by 23%.
A 27-year-old Maryland man has been arrested and charged with yesterday’s robbery of the Bank of America on Columbia Pike.
Police say Jaquan Royal passed the teller a note and implied that he had a weapon, then fled with cash. No one was physically hurt.
From an Arlington County police press release:
The Arlington County Police Department has charged a suspect for his involvement in a bank robbery in the 3400 block of Columbia Pike. Jaquan Deandre Malik Royal, 27, of Prince George’s County, Md., was taken into custody in Fairfax County. Charges in Arlington County are for Bank Robbery and Armed Robbery.
At approximately 10:29 a.m. on April 4, police were dispatched to the report of an armed robbery in the 3400 block of Columbia Pike. Upon arrival, it was determined the suspect entered the bank and allegedly passed a note to the teller demanding money and implying he had a weapon. He then fled the scene with an undisclosed amount of cash. No weapon was seen or displayed, and no injuries were reported.
This incident remains an active criminal investigation and anyone with information is asked to contact police at 703-228-4180 or [email protected] Information may also be provided anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS.
Royal has a past arrest record in Arlington and Fairfax counties.
In the summer of 2022 he was arrested and charged with robbing a Wells Fargo Bank on Richmond Highway. The ultimate disposition of that case is not immediately clear, as ARLnow does not subscribe to Fairfax County’s paid circuit court records service.
In 2020, Royal was arrested and later convicted of petty larceny in Fairfax County, according to Fairfax County General District Court records.
Royal was arrested twice in Arlington last year and accused of a Nov. 26, 2020 armed carjacking in Crystal City and a Dec. 23, 2022 shooting. In both instances, charges were later dropped.
In February of this year he was arrested on grand larceny and other charges in Fairfax County, stemming from a December incident. He was released on his own recognizance in early March 2023, ahead of a preliminary hearing scheduled for May.
(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) The woman murdered in a D.C. hotel room this past weekend was an Arlington native who attended Yorktown High School.
Christy Bautista was a student at Yorktown High School from 2007 to 2010, per high school yearbook photos, and was in orchestra her freshman year. She previously attended Swanson Middle School, confirmed by other former students and address records.
Bautista was a graduate of James Madison University in Harrisonburg.
Bautista, 31, was in the city to attend a concert, her family told NBC4, and had checked into the Ivy City Hotel on New York Avenue in Northeast D.C at around 6 p.m. Friday night.
Less than an hour after arriving, a man brutally attacked her with a knife inside her hotel room. Security cameras showed the man entering the room, followed by an audible struggle, court records note.
Thirteen minutes later, District police entered the room and arrested a 43-year-old man. Bautista was pronounced dead at the hotel at 7:10 p.m.
The suspect is being charged with first-degree murder, per court documents. It’s believed that he and Bautista did not know each other.
A GoFundMe campaign has been established to help Bautista’s family with funeral expenses. As of midday Wednesday it has raised nearly $10,000.
Is crime on the rise in Arlington? It depends on which Arlington County official you ask.
Police Chief Andy Penn told the County Board last Thursday that crime rates rose in 2022, driven by upticks in theft — of cars and from cars — and assaults, largely in Arlington’s most populated neighborhoods. He noted that ACPD is seeing more crimes where a weapon is used.
Arlington started 2023 with a rise in carjackings and student overdoses, and this early data indicates that it ended 2022 with a nearly 23% increase in property crimes over 2021 with, specifically, a 27.4% increase in larcenies. In addition, there has been a nearly 32% increase in vehicle thefts and a 14% increase in thefts from vehicles, especially with unlocked cars or those with keys left inside.
There has also been a 16% increase in crimes against people, such as assault, and a 21.5% decrease in crimes against society, such as drug violations.
Penn noted officers are seeing “more guns than what’s normal,” as officers seized 147 firearms in 2022 — an increase from 126 in 2021 and 104 in 2020. Of the seizures in 2022, 15 were ghost guns.
ACPD does not typically report arrest numbers — as opposed to offense numbers, which are released annually — for the most common group of offenses, which span everything from burglary to murder. A department spokeswoman told ARLnow that that would have to be requested through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The department noted its 2021 annual report, released last summer, that people officers have arrested for these “Group A” crimes are “frequently responsible for multiple cases within Arlington or regionally.”
The question of whether crime is rising in Arlington has implications for the race to determine the upcoming Commonwealth’s Attorney race. Josh Katcher, who used to work for the incumbent top prosecutor, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, has made his campaign about acknowledging that crime is rising and criticizing his opponent for, he says, not admitting this.
“We can’t begin to address these issues until we are willing to acknowledge and face them head on,” he said in a statement to ARLnow. “Arlington County deserves a Commonwealth’s Attorney who is transparent with those that they are elected to serve. My opponent has repeatedly and publicly stated that crime has not been rising, starting in November of last year.”
Dehghani-Tafti, who won in 2019 on a platform of criminal justice reform, has maintained her position despite crime concerns from some residents and members of ACPD. In a statement to ARLnow in response, Dehghani-Tafti called Katcher’s rhetoric fear-mongering.
“Real leaders don’t engage in right wing fear mongering propaganda, particularly when Arlington remains one of the safest communities in the country,” she said. “Real leaders also don’t use right wing attack lines that prosecutors are responsible for temporary rise or decline in crime. While some categories of assaults have been on the rise since 2018, serious crimes such as homicides have declined in Arlington at the same time as jurisdictions nationwide have seen an increase.”
She noted that Arlington had zero homicides for nearly 18 months — one in February 2022 and none since then.
“Our job is to build on that success to continue to keep our community safe. That’s what I intend to do,” Dehghani-Tafti said.
This past Friday, ABC true-crime show “20/20” threw a spotlight on the 1998 homicide of an Arlington woman and the acquittal of a major suspect, her then-fiancé, last year.
In “The Confession?” ABC went on a deep dive into the death of Andrea Cincotta in her Arlington apartment.
It explained how a confession 20 years later kicked off a special grand jury investigation into the person who confessed, convicted felon Bobby Joe Leonard, and his alleged accomplice, Cincotta’s fiancé James Christopher Johnson. It concludes with their indictment in 2021 and a murder trial in 2022.
Johnson, who was a primary suspect, he says he discovered Cincotta dead in the closet of the apartment they shared back in August 1998. Prosecutors alleged Johnson had hired Leonard to kill Cincotta for $5,000. Last fall, Leonard pleaded guilty and a trial jury acquitted Johnson, who had maintained his innocence.
The trial happened during the tenure of Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. As the race to elect the next Commonwealth’s Attorney heats up, candidate Josh Katcher blasted Dehghani-Tafti — who was elected on a justice reform platform — in a statement highlighting the 20/20 episode.
“My opponent once described herself as an innocence protection attorney,” he said. “It is entirely beyond me how you square that statement with this prosecution.”
For the report, Johnson gave exclusive interviews to ABC, describing how his life changed the day he says he discovered Cincotta, dead, in a closet.
“Something like this… You’re never going to be the same,” Johnson told ABC. “I used to be a lot more trusting. I trusted everyone, trusted the police, and now my eyes have been opened.”
A criminal genius, or an innocent man who confessed to a murder he didn’t commit? Watch the exclusive 20/20 interview you won’t hear anywhere else. The all-new 20/20 with @RyanSmithTV drops TONIGHT at 9/8c on ABC. Stream on Hulu. pic.twitter.com/JQBUfbcTPB
— 20/20 (@ABC2020) March 10, 2023
Dehghani-Tafti told ARLnow her office prosecuted the case after Leonard — already in prison for kidnapping, raping and attempting to kill a 13-year-old girl — confessed to killing Cincotta.
When someone is killed and we have evidence we believe is credible, it’s our job to stand up for them and for the community. We knew this was going to be a tough case and we took it to the community in the form of an investigative grand jury, the community investigated and brought back indictments for both Mr. Leonard and Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Leonard pleaded guilty and received a life sentence. We litigated Mr. Johnson’s case in the most transparent, fair way we could, giving them all the evidence we had and all the evidence they needed to defend their client. We don’t run away from hard cases and hard cases are the ones that go to trial. The system worked the way it was designed to work and I respect the jury’s verdict.
The episode walks through procedural and substantive missteps Johnson and his attorneys say Arlington County Police Department made investigating the crime in 1998 — and the prosecution made bringing the case to trial in 2022.
It says police processed the crime in a way that made it harder to find fingerprints on Cincotta’s throat. They questioned Johnson for 28 hours before he broke down and said he had a “vision” of harming Cincotta. He wrote this down, didn’t ask for an attorney, and was released, as the description of what he said he did did not match Cincotta’s autopsy.
“From the onset of the investigation, the Arlington County Police Department has remained committed to pursuing justice on behalf of Andrea Cincotta and her family,” ACPD said in a statement to ARLnow. “The court proceedings are the official release of information in this case and we’ll defer to the court records for additional information presented in this case.”
Two decades after the marathon interrogation, prosecutors used the “vision” statement to show the jury that Johnson lied to throw police off. Arlington Circuit Court Judge Judith Wheat ruled the statement was admissible, the Washington Post’s Tom Jackman, who was interviewed by ABC, reported last year.
The “20/20” episode cast doubt on the validity of this evidence.
“How did this case get charged? As a lawyer, I don’t get it,” a member of the defense team, Frank Salvato, told ABC. “I think prosecutors brought this case hoping they could catch lightning in a bottle.”
Jurors, meanwhile, did not buy the argument that the men knew each other.
“You don’t hire someone to kill someone whom you’ve never met,” jury foreman Chen Ling told ABC. “And, out of all the Bobby Joe Leonard testimony, he never claimed that they met. I feel like that was, for me, the important detail that gave reasonable doubt.”
They were wary of deals struck with Leonard to hear his confession and coax him onto the stand. In exchange to confessing to Arlington cold case Detective Rosa Ortiz in 2018 — when Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos was still in charge — Leonard asked prosecutors not to seek the death penalty. Then, before he took the stand in 2022, he requested to be moved to a lower-security prison.
“We were aware that Bobby Joe Leonard was offered certain things in exchange for his testimony,” said a juror named Chris, who requested ABC withhold his last name. “It seemed to me the police were just hammering home what they took to be the case.”
But the special grand jury that initially investigated Johnson believed there was enough evidence to go to trial, points out Edward Ungvarsky, an Alexandria-based private criminal defense lawyer.
Ungvarsky tells ARLnow that this case is an example of the system working and credited Dehghani-Tafti for bringing the case to the special grand jury and sharing exculpatory information with the defense.
Prosecutors will convene special grand juries “if they are going to give the community, which is the people who comprise the grand jury, the opportunity and power to decide whether to bring charges and what charges to bring and to investigate the case,” Ungvarsky noted. “Using a special grand jury increases community empowerment and accountability in the charging, and provides greater transparency and fairness to the defendant and the defense.”
In addition, special grand juries often have higher standards than regular grand juries, which are more commonly used to indict someone. This process is transcribed and copies are given to defense lawyers before trial. Witnesses testify and jurors can ask questions.
The grand jury “was advantageous for the defense,” Ungvarsky said, adding that they also benefited from the prosecution making available to them a local expert in false confessions, former D.C. police Detective James Trainum.
Trainum said Johnson’s confession was false and advised the prosecution not to use it. Prosecutors shared his information with Johnson’s attorneys, Ungvarsky and one of Johnson’s defense attorney confirmed to ARLnow.
“In this case, there was… lots of favorable information to help the defendant help defend himself at trial, and I think that really needs to be recognize,” Ungvarsky said. “It’s proper to do so because it’s exculpatory, favorable evidence.”
Not providing favorable information, called a “Brady disclosure,” is more common, he says.
Commonwealth’s Attorney candidate Katcher, however, was more pessimistic in his reading. He says the case belies his opponent’s lack of experience.
Katcher’s full statement is below.
Real justice means only engaging in just prosecutions. The 20/20 exposé on my opponent’s decision to prosecute an innocent man for murder, highlights exactly why relevant experience matters when it comes to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
This is not about trying ‘tough cases.’ This was about making a tough decision, and my opponent failed. Mr. Johnson will forever live as someone accused of murder.
My opponent once described herself as an innocence protection attorney. It is entirely beyond me how you square that statement with this prosecution.
The foreperson of the jury in the Johnson case asked, “Why did [the prosecution] even bother to bring the case?” My opponent owes an answer to Mr. Johnson and this community.
A man is in jail after a pair of alleged sexual battery incidents in the Courthouse area Sunday evening.
Both happened along Wilson Blvd and involved the 22-year-old suspect approaching women and hitting them on the buttocks, police said.
From an Arlington County Police Department crime report:
SEXUAL BATTERY, 2023-03050171, Wilson Boulevard at N. Courthouse Road. At approximately 6:47 p.m. on March 5, police were dispatched to the police station for the report of a suspicious person. Upon arrival, it was determined the female victim was walking her dog in the area when the male suspect approached her and allegedly hit her on the buttocks before fleeing the scene on foot. During the course of the investigation, it was determined a second female victim was approached by the suspect in the area of Wilson Boulevard and N. Troy Street, during which he hit her on the buttocks before fleeing the scene. A lookout was broadcast and responding officers located the suspect in the area and took him into custody without incident. [The suspect], 22, of No Fixed Address, was arrested and charged with Sexual Battery (x2). He was held without bail.
The suspect is expected in court tomorrow (Tuesday) for a bail hearing, per court records.