- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2020

A local attorney said he is preparing to issue an open letter to Montgomery County Police claiming they misrepresented a pair of incidents at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda as racially motivated hate crimes.

Attorney Manuel Miranda told The Washington Times authorities never made public the fact that the suspect behind two graffiti incidents featuring anti-Black themes and rhetoric was himself Black.

“For months now the people of posh and pretty Bethesda have lived under a cloud, believing their peaceful, high-powered suburb of the nation’s capital, home and breeding ground of Supreme Court justices, was seething with hidden racism and hate. At Walt Whitman High School, one of America’s top 100 public high schools, students and faculty imagined white-hooded riders racing through the tidy halls after two incidents of lynching graffiti, complete with a noose and the N-word,” said Mr. Miranda, who is helping one of the juveniles who was present during one of the incidents.

“What nobody told the people of Bethesda was that the graffiti painter of both Whitman incidents was African American — or that in the last incident, both of his casual companions were themselves also targeted minorities, or that they had no idea, and could not even imagine, what their African American friend would paint until he did,” he said, describing the hate incidents as “hoax crimes.”

Captain Thomas Jordan, director of the public information division for Montgomery County Police, said it is not the organization’s policy to report race in their press releases for those involved in incidents. He said press releases will include names, ages and localities of those involved. However, since the incidents included minors, the police didn’t release their names.

“We don’t identify by race and that’s consistent with all of our press releases. We don’t do that,” Mr. Jordan said. “I feel like there’s probably more issues if we identify people by race because we’re a very interracial or multiracial society now. So how do you tell how anybody identifies? Are we the ones to make that determination?”

In June, police reported in a press release that they charged a 17-year-old juvenile for “racially themed vandalisms” that occurred at Walt Whitman High School on June 13 and March 1. They said they also charged 18-year-old Jake Foster Hoffman of the 8700 block of Grant Street in Bethesda and another 17-year-old boy with conspiracy to commit the June 13 vandalism.

According to a police press release, a resident had flagged down a District officer on patrol to report racially themed words and an image spray painted on high school property. The officer discovered that racial slurs had been spray painted on a utility shed near the front entrance of the school and on the pavement in front of the shed. A noose was also reportedly found.

On June 14, one of the juvenile suspects and Hoffman spoke with officers about the vandalism at the school. During a police interview, the juvenile allegedly took full responsibility for the vandalism and admitted to committing it because “he thought it would be fun to have something make the news given the current events occurring in the United States.”

Police said that the juvenile and Hoffman expressed feeling regret shortly after the vandalism and wanted to turn themselves in. The juvenile also admitted to committing similar racially themed vandalism on March 1 at the high school, according to police.

Officers also identified a second juvenile suspect in the June 13 vandalism. They allege this second juvenile suggested to the first juvenile suspect that he should commit the racially themed vandalism in front of the school, which Mr. Miranda claims as false, while Hoffman suggested instead vandalizing the utility shed.

The first 17-year-old was charged as a juvenile with two counts of destruction of property and released to the custody of his parents, police say.

Mr. Hoffman was charged through District Court summons with conspiracy to commit destruction of property. Mr. Miranda said he knows Mr. Hoffman is not being prosecuted. Police say the second 17-year-old was charged as a juvenile with conspiracy to commit destruction of property and was also released to the custody of a parent. However, Mr. Miranda said this boy was neither arrested nor formally charged.

The names and photographs of the juveniles will not be released since they are minors. A photo of Mr. Hoffman is unavailable since he was charged through a District Court summons, police said.

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