Arlington, VA

Throughout her Democratic primary campaign for commonwealth’s attorney, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti pledged to stop the prosecution of simple marijuana possession cases.

Now that she has defeated incumbent Theo Stamos, Tafti is likely to have the opportunity to keep her campaign promise while in the prosecutor’s office.

More from the candidate’s website:

Between 2013 and 2018, the current Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office prosecuted over 3200 cases of simple marijuana possession. African-Americans are at least 8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite the fact that studies show that different racial groups use marijuana at about the same rates. Marijuana should be the subject of civil regulation, but we should put our limited prosecutorial resources to better use focusing on serious crimes. Parisa will not prosecute simple possession of marijuana and support decriminalization and legalization, with appropriate government regulation.

The Arlington Green Party supports that stance, penning an open letter just before primary day calling for Stamos to “stop prosecuting people caught with small amounts of marijuana in Arlington.”

“Arlington police and prosecutors should concentrate on crimes of violence and significant felonies, and not waste our public dollars jailing and prosecuting mostly youth caught with a marijuana cigarette,” the party said in an email.

What do you think?

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Morning Notes

Rosslyn Shooter Sentenced — “A man who worked as an investigator for conspiracy theorist Jack Burkman will serve nine years in prison for shooting and wounding his ex-boss” in a Rosslyn hotel parking garage. [Washington Post]

Marijuana Arrest Disparity — “African Americans were more than eight times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana crimes in Arlington from 2010-2016.” [Bacon’s Rebellion]

More on Long Bridge Plan — “New plans call to double the number of railroad tracks over the Potomac River between DC and Arlington, and to build a new pedestrian/bicycle bridge between Southwest Washington and Crystal City.” [Greater Greater Washington]

New Gym Coming to Arlington — “Blink Fitness is gearing up to expand into Northern Virginia with five new locations in Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax. Northern Virginia-based Cove Fitness LLC inked the 10-year agreement with the New York fitness chain to bring gyms to the region that will create about 70 jobs and occupy 90,000 square feet.” [Washington Business Journal]

Crystal City Still in Spotlight — “I spent a day in Crystal City, Virginia — and it’s easy to see why Amazon picked it for its new HQ2 headquarters.” [Business Insider]

Most Elaborate Cubicle Xmas Decoration Ever? — At WJLA in Rosslyn, a TV director named Mason Herndon has converted his office cubicle into a log cabin complete with fake snow, a fake fireplace and Christmas lights. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Morning Notes

Local Investment Firm CEO Arrested — Todd Hitt, the founder of Falls Church-based Kiddar Capital, was arrested by the FBI and charged with securities fraud last week. Hitt was developing a new company headquarters in Falls Church. He made headlines as a young housing developer in the 1990s for clashing with Arlington neighbors while building what residents dubbed “McMansions.” [Tysons Reporter]

More White Nationalist Posters Spotted — A reader says he saw more white nationalists posters around Clarendon over the weekend. The reader, who wished to remain anonymous, says he removed the posters after photographing them. [Twitter]

New 1100 Wilson Blvd Rooftop — “Monday Properties hosted a VIP event for real estate brokers Wednesday evening to showcase the 6,200-square-foot indoor-outdoor space atop the 31-story building, part of the two-building The Towers. It is being unveiled as landlords in Rosslyn and across Greater Washington seek to up their communal spaces to appeal to tenants who increasingly want more than just office space to attract and hang onto employees.” [Washington Business Journal]

Bamboo Removal This Week — “Arlington County contractors will be removing bamboo in Benjamin Banneker Park during the week of Oct. 8. Depending on weather conditions, treatment is expected to conclude by Friday, Oct. 12.” [Twitter]

Maryjane Arrested for Car Theft, Weed — “Police caught a woman named Maryjane in Ballston who they say stole a car in Fairfax County — and they also hit her with a marijuana charge.” [Patch]

Windfall for Ballston Company — “Arlington-based AvalonBay Communities Inc. expects to clear north of $450 million from the sale of a majority stake in five Manhattan apartment communities.” [Washington Business Journal]

2000th Morning Notes Post — This is Morning Notes post No. 2000. ARLnow.com launched in January 2010.

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Morning Notes

Police Searching for I-66 Wrong-Way Driver — Police are still looking for the driver who crashed into another vehicle while driving the wrong way on I-66 near Rosslyn early Sunday morning, after being chased by a uniformed Secret Service officer who spotted the car driving the wrong way in D.C. [Fox 5, WTOP, Twitter]

Vehicle Crashes into House in Barcroft — A vehicle that was driven into the side of a house in the Barcroft neighborhood Sunday morning caused only minor damage to the building, according to the fire department. [Twitter]

Truck Brings Down Power Lines in Long Branch Creek — “Downed power lines caused around 1,000 customers to lose power in Arlington County on Saturday. Dominion Power said a truck ‘snagged’ the lines and broke two of the power poles around 8:15 a.m. It also damaged some vehicles in the area.” [WJLA]

Runner Struck By Car Hopes to Run Marathon — A local runner who was struck by a car while running recently hopes to run the Marine Corps Marathon in the fall despite suffering two broken bones in her foot. [Twitter]

Projects to Transform Crystal City — Six major transportation projects “will play a significant role in transforming the Crystal City area in the coming years.” [Bisnow]

Arlington Teens Arrested in Ocean City — Three teens from Arlington were arrested in Ocean City, Maryland after they pulled over to ask police officers about parking in the area and the officers “immediately recognized the strong odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle.” They searched the car and found “roughly a half a pound of marijuana along with prescription drugs, methamphetamine, brass knuckles, an assisted opening knife and several items of drug paraphernalia,” plus “a full face mask in the vehicle [and] a .25 caliber handgun.” [The Dispatch]

Dems Still Distributing Print Newsletter — Print may be waning as a medium, but the Arlington County Democratic Committee is still going all-in on its printed campaign newsletter, “The Messenger.” The party is recruiting more than 400 volunteers to distribute the newsletter to homes throughout the county. [InsideNova]

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A federal grand jury indicted an Arlington man yesterday (March 15) on charges relating to alleged MS-13 gang involvement.

Luis Arnoldo Flores-Reyes, also known as Maloso or Lobo, 37, is alleged to have been engaged in “a racketeering conspiracy that included extortion, drug trafficking, murder and a conspiracy to commit murder” as a member of MS-13’s Sailors Clique.

He is charged with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, and conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce by extortion.

Prosecutors say Flores-Reyes trafficked marijuana and cocaine Langley Park, Md., and extorted illegal business owners in Langley Park and Wheaton, Md. He is also accused of ordering the murders of rival gang members in Houston, Texas.

MS-13 is an international gang with ties to El Salvador and is one of America’s largest street gangs.

More from a U.S. Justice Department press release:

A federal grand jury returned an indictment yesterday charging an alleged MS-13 member residing in Arlington, Virginia with

The indictment was announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan; Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning for the District of Maryland; Special Agent in Charge Andre Watson of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Assistant Director in Charge Andrew W. Vale of the FBI Washington Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Karl C. Colder of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); Chief Henry P. Stawinski III of the Prince George’s County Police Department; Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks; Chief Douglas Holland of the Hyattsville Police Department; Chief J. Thomas Manger of the Montgomery County Police Department; and Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.

Luis Arnoldo Flores-Reyes, aka Maloso and Lobo, 37, is charged in a four-count superseding indictment that alleges that from at least 2015 through January 2018, he was a member and associate of the Sailors Clique of MS-13 and that he engaged in a racketeering conspiracy that included extortion, drug trafficking, murder and a conspiracy to commit murder. The defendant is also charged with drug trafficking conspiracy and conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce by extortion. Flores-Reyes is in custody.

According to the indictment, MS-13 is a national and international gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants from El Salvador. Branches or “cliques” of MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, operate throughout Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, Maryland. Eleven other individuals were previously charged in this case with racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, drug trafficking conspiracy and conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce by extortion.

For a period of time beginning at least in 2015 through in or about 2017, members of the Sailors Clique, including Flores-Reyes, are alleged to have extorted owners of illegal businesses in the Langley Park and Wheaton areas of Maryland, with the extortion proceeds being sent to El Salvador to benefit MS-13. In addition, between 2015 and 2018, members of the Sailors clique, including Flores-Reyes, are alleged to have trafficked narcotics, including marijuana and cocaine in Langley Park, Maryland, with the proceeds benefiting the gang.

More specifically, in January 2018, Flores-Reyes gave directions to members of MS-13 in Houston, Texas that they should purchase a gun and shoot rival gang members who were believed to have killed a member of MS-13. On or about Jan. 28, 2018, members of MS-13 in Houston, Texas shot at and attempted to kill suspected rival gang members while Flores-Reyes and other MS-13 members, including MS-13 members in El Salvador, monitored the shooting by phone.

An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.

Trial Attorney Catherine K. Dick of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys William D. Moomau and Daniel C. Gardner of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland are prosecuting this case.

Photo via U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) A suspended Taylor Elementary gym teacher, accused of smoking pot in the school, has pleaded guilty to marijuana possession.

Luke Lloyd of Fairfax, Va. entered the plea Tuesday morning before Arlington General District Court Judge Frances O’Brien. He was sentenced to serve 30 days in jail, with 20 days suspended. He was also ordered to complete 100 hours of community service, pay a $500 fine and complete substance abuse treatment, we’re told.

Lloyd began serving the net ten day sentence on Friday. Most first-time marijuana offenders walk free, but Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos said her office pushed for a stiffer sentence.

“It’s typical for a first time possession of marijuana case to result in a deferred disposition,” Stamos said. “My office, however, argued against such an outcome given the particular facts of this case. Those facts include what appears to have been a rather steady course of use, at times at the school, that we learned about from an anonymous tip to ACPD.”

A second Taylor P.E. teacher nabbed by police, Michael Diaddigo, was also facing possession of marijuana charges, which have since been dropped. Stamos, however, said charges against Diaddigo are expected to be filed soon in Arlington County Circuit Court, which typically handles more serious criminal cases. Stamos declined to elaborate on the charges, since the case is pending.

Lloyd and Diaddigo were both suspended without pay by Arlington Public Schools “pending the outcome of the legal case,” a spokesman said. So far, there is no word on Lloyd’s employment status following the plea. A third Taylor P.E. teacher who was accused of smoking marijuana at the school is currently on administrative leave.

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Del. Mark Levine (D-45) has said he is “extremely optimistic” of a bill passing in the Virginia General Assembly this year that would legalize a form of medical marijuana.

Levine is chief co-patron on H.B. 1251, introduced by Del. Ben Cline (R-24), which advanced from a subcommittee of the Virginia House of Delegates’ Courts of Justice committee.

It would make medical marijuana, made from cannabidiol oils that can be used for medical purposes after being derived from the flowers of cannabis plants, legal as of July 1, 2018.

The bill would allow physicians to recommend the use of medical cannabidiol oils, going further than a bill introduced by Levine — H.B. 137 — that would have allowed its use only for cancer patients.

He introduced the same legislation in 2017, but it failed in subcommittee. Since then, Levine said he has worked to show lawmakers on both sides of the aisle the benefits of legalization, including Cline, who said he was “pleased with what I’m hearing. I’m hearing developments that I haven’t heard before,” in a hearing last year.

“I’ve long advocated for reform of our outdated and unnecessarily punitive marijuana laws,” Levine wrote in an email to supporters. “Those of you who know me personally know I’ve never even tried cannabis… But just because something physically disgusts me does not make me blind to the scientific fact that non-psychoactive cannabidiol oils from cannabis — oils that don’t get you “high” — have proven scientific effects that reduce pain and nausea and even kill cancer cells.”

The legislation still needs to pass both the House of Delegates and the Virginia State Senate, but Levine said he is hopeful of full passage.

“Having counted the votes on full committee and talked to members in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, I am extremely optimistic about the fate of this legislation,” Levine wrote. “I expect this law to pass. I predict cannabidiol oils will be legally prescribed in Virginia for diagnosis or treatment of illnesses beginning in July 2018.”

In a similar vein, bills by state Sens. Adam Ebbin (D-30) and Barbara Favola (D-31) that would have decriminalized the possession of marijuana and reduce penalties for its distribution both failed in committee today (Monday).

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Two state Senators who represent sections of Arlington County have proposed bills that would decriminalize the possession of marijuana and reduce penalties for its distribution.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) has re-introduced a bill, SB-111, which would decriminalize simple possession of marijuana and make it a civil offense, rather than a Class 1 misdemeanor, which it is now in Virginia.

Under Ebbin’s bill, violators would be fined no more than $50 for a first violation, $100 for a second violation, and $250 for a third or subsequent violation.

It is not the first time that Ebbin has tried to decriminalize marijuana possession. Last year, his bill stalled in the state Senate’s Courts of Justice Committee ahead of a study this year into decriminalization by the Virginia State Crime Commission.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported earlier this month that the commission did not vote on a decriminalization proposal, as it was “not yet adequately drafted for consideration.” It heard testimony on a decriminalization plan in October.

“My marijuana reform legislation will end consequential outcomes for simple marijuana possession, particularly for communities of color,” Ebbin said in a statement last year. “Possession of marijuana shouldn’t impact future employment opportunities, or cause the suspension of your driver’s license.”

Another bill, SB-40 introduced by state Sen. Barbara Favola (D) would reduce the penalties for those who distribute marijuana or intend to distribute it. It also raises the minimum amount of marijuana subject to the offense of distribution or “possession with intent to distribute” from one-half ounce to one ounce.

Both bills have been referred to the Senate’s Committee for Courts of Justice.

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Two Taylor Elementary physical education teachers are facing charges and a third is being investigated after a drug bust at the sought-after north Arlington school.

In a letter to parents, school principal Harold Pellegreen said that P.E. teachers Michael Diaddigo and Luke Lloyd have been charged with possession of marijuana and have been suspended from the school. Another has been “placed on administrative leave, pending further investigation by the police.”

TV news reports, citing court documents, said that police were told by an informant that the three teachers regularly smoked pot in their school office. They were also told that Diaddigo distributed marijuana to other teachers on school property. Students were reportedly unaware of the activity.

On a staff page that has since been removed, Taylor Elementary’s website said that Diaddigo was new to Taylor after two years of part-time P.E. teaching at Arlington’s Campbell and Tuckahoe elementary schools. Diaddigo is a Loudoun County native while Lloyd attended high school and college in Fairfax County, the page said.

The full letter from Pellegreen to parents is below.

Subject: APS School Talk – A Message from the Principal
A message from TAYLOR ELEMENTARY

Dear Taylor Families:

I wanted to update you on an incident that occurred at school earlier today. Based on information received by the Arlington County Police Department, this morning we cooperated with the police on their investigation into a matter involving three Taylor staff members. As a result of their investigation, Michael Diaddigo and Luke Lloyd have been charged with possession of marijuana and have been suspended. One additional staff member has been placed on administrative leave, pending further investigation by the police.

As educators, we are obviously shocked and dismayed by this news, and our first concern has been for our students. While I can’t share the details about the investigation with you because it is an ongoing personnel and police matter, I want to share how we are rallying to support our children, families and staff:

We believe the investigation is only focused on the adults and does not involve any of their interactions with our children. We met with the Taylor staff this afternoon to share this news, and we all remain committed to maintaining our focus on our primary goal of providing the best academic and personal support for all Taylor
students.

Counselors will visit these classes next week to share with students what has happened in age-appropriate ways, and our counselors will be available to help any students who may have questions or need to
discuss this change.

Our administrative team is working with our Human Resources staff and we are following all APS personnel policies and procedures to deal with this matter appropriately.

We will continue to work to ensure that we have qualified replacements in place for these positions so that instruction can proceed without interruption.

This is a disheartening situation for Taylor and the entire APS community. Please be assured that we will continue to work together to ensure that Taylor’s students, families and staff are supported during this transition.

As always, don’t hesitate to call me if you need to discuss specific concerns about your child.

Sincerely,

Harold Pellegreen
Principal

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An Arlington resident recently wrote to the Virginia State Crime Commission during the ongoing Request for Written Content period in support of marijuana decriminalization. This issue was considered in the state legislature earlier this year, resulting in a study by the Virginia State Crime Commission.

The resident shared his letter, below, with ARLnow.com for publication. The resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, states that decriminalization could save the state money, keep non-violent offenders out of jail and allow police to focus on more serious crime.

Dear Virginia State Crime Commission,

Thank you all for your hard work on studying this critical issue of whether current marijuana laws are appropriate. The prohibition of marijuana has undoubtedly caused a myriad of unfortunate consequences. Among them the incarceration of many, but disproportionately minorities, for non-violent transgressions. Virginia has severe racial disparities in its arrest rates as well. It’s shocking that one in ten African American males in their 30s are in jail or prison on any given day.

Our state boasts long and punitive sentencing guidelines for simple possession of marijuana. Incarceration often produces hardened criminals. The absence of  compassionate rehabilitation for those who would welcome treatment for drug abuse is inhumane.

Recidivism is an enormous problem in the US. Nearly 68 out of every 100 prisoners are rearrested within three years. Educational and career opportunities are lost due to having a criminal record for a minor offense. The lack of lawful opportunities further encourages the vicious cycle of recidivism.

The Commonwealth of Virginia spends far too much on enforcement and incarceration for marijuana-related crimes in Virginia. According to Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, “Virginia spends $67 million on marijuana enforcement, which is enough to open another 13,000 pre-K spots for kids.”

Our state spends more than $25,000 per inmate, at an annualized cost of approximately $1.5 billion. With a budget shortfall of $266 million per year, and a potential savings of at least $67 million for just reducing marijuana enforcement, the math is clear. Virginia cannot afford to continue down this path of investigating, arresting and incarcerating non-violent marijuana offenders.

Decriminalization has a positive effect, by reducing law enforcement spending on marijuana to better prioritize resources on serious crime. Lowering the unaffordable and unsustainable cost of our prison system, improving our state’s budget deficit and improving trust in law enforcement.

Obviously marijuana should not be used by developing children and adolescents. However, adults in the privacy of their own home should not have to fear legal repercussions for an activity that seems to cause no serious harm, especially in comparison to alcohol or tobacco, both of which are legal.

In closing, I ask that the State Crime Commission takes in to consideration not just the present, but the future. Virginia is respected as a bellwether for legislation by other, nearby states, including North Carolina, which has already decriminalized simple possession of marijuana.

Decriminalizing marijuana would send a powerful signal to our other neighbors and bring Virginia in to alignment with 22 other states who have done the same. We owe it to our fellow Virginians to give our laws a second look and determine if the the punishment really and truly does fit the crime.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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Marijuana(Updated at 1:02 p.m.) A new Arlington General District Court policy to skip appointing a lawyer for some first-time marijuana offenders has local public defenders speaking out.

Under the new policy, which took effect March 1, people caught with a small amount marijuana would not be appointed a lawyer if they have no criminal record and it’s their first pot possession offense.

According to a memo that court officials sent to the Arlington County Bar Association last month, some people caught with pot for the first time can enter a guilty plea and have the charge dismissed as long as they agree to meet “certain conditions” set by the court.

Offenders who qualify would have two weeks from arraignment to consult with an attorney if they choose, but wouldn’t be appointed one.

Though the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says “in all criminal prosecutions the accused… shall have assistance of counsel for his defense,” the Supreme Court ruled in a 1979 decision that the right to counsel only applies when a defendant faces imprisonment.

In this case, because the court is waiving jail time for those offenders, it does not legally need to appoint them counsel. Many other courts throughout the U.S. have also similarly waived imprisonment for first-time marijuana offenders.

Arlington’s Office of the Public Defender is protesting the policy on the grounds that it could unfairly affect people who can’t afford lawyers if they want them.

The office made its case in a rebuttal letter shared with ARLnow.com.

“While no doubt unintended, Arlington’s new policy will send us down a slippery slope towards the same scenario for poor people: no lawyers for indigent persons charged with personal-use marijuana possession cases where the court or prosecutor exclude jail time as a sentencing option,” the letter reads.

Matthew Foley, the office’s chief public defender, added that the new policy would “disproportionately affect minorities and immigrants” and possibly deprive them of their due process.

Foley argued that the policy could mislead people into thinking the charges would be expunged from their record, which they may not be. For citizens, he said, the consequences of a criminal record might include loss of educational opportunities, jobs, public benefits, student loans, and the ability to legally drive a car. For non-citizens, the consequences of such a record could mean deportation, the inability to become a citizen or re-enter the country.

“Liberty is not just about jail time,” he told ARLnow.com. “It’s about permanent criminal records, which affect you your entire life.”

Foley continued in the letter:

Assuming a typical indigent defendant can even get a free consultation with a private lawyer, how does that person parlay the attorney’s advice into getting due process? If the consulted lawyer advises that the police stop or search were unlawful, what will the indigent defendant without an appointed attorney be able to do with this advice? What if the person charged is innocent? How does the mere advice of the attorney lead to a just result? If the attorney tells the accused person that the case is weak, but he may be deported if he is found guilty, how does that help? The answer is clear: it will help no more than a doctor advising an uninsured, cash-strapped patient how to remove his tonsils, set a broken leg or cure his cancer.

But Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos disputed Foley’s argument and called his rhetoric “overheated.”

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