District prosecutors dropped charges Friday against the five men who were accused of beating a man who died outside the popular DC9 nightclub last month, saying evidence did not support the case.
The death of Ali Ahmed Mohammed sparked outrage in the city, with Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier calling it “savage” and accusing the men charged with the crime of “vigilante justice.” The accused are the club’s co-owner and four employees, and the club remains closed because of the incident.
The men, initially charged with murder, had been scheduled to appear in court Monday for a preliminary hearing on aggravated assault charges. Prosecutors would have had to convince a judge that the evidence was strong enough to move forward. Authorities can now continue investigating and have the option of refiling charges because of Friday’s move.
Mohammed, 27, of Silver Spring, had been denied admission to the club and later came back after closing and threw bricks through the window. Police said the club employees chased Mohammed, held him down and punched and kicked him.
The first officer on the scene, about 2:30 a.m. Oct. 15, found Mohammed “lying on the ground, unconscious and not breathing,” court papers said. Officers saw dried blood on Mohammed’s face and noticed that his head was swollen. He was taken to Howard University Hospital and pronounced dead.
But from the beginning, the men have insisted they are innocent. Attorneys for two of them lashed out at Lanier, saying she acted rashly and irresponsibly. Lanier’s comments and news of the incident, which occurred near the city’s vibrant and popular U Street corridor, was widely publicized on television and in newspapers.
“Chief Lanier and the Metropolitan Police Department were wrong and did not conduct a full investigation before improperly jumping to incorrect conclusions,” said Danny Onorato, attorney for former DC9 manager Evan Preller. “They then trumpeted those incorrect conclusions to the press, and that is wrong.”
Steven J. McCool, who represents William Spieler, 46, a club co-owner, said, “Cathy Lanier at best acted irresponsibly in standing before television cameras and blaming my client for Mr. Mohammed’s death.”
Lanier declined to comment on the criticism. In a written statement, D.C. police officials said the department “will commit all the resources necessary to assist the United States Attorney’s office with their investigation. We have every faith that the U.S. Attorney will ultimately charge the party responsible for the tragic death of Ali Mohammed.”
In addition to Spieler and Preller, prosecutors dropped charges against Darryl Carter Jr., 20, and Reginald Phillips, 22, both D.C. residents; and Arthur Andrew Zaloga, 25, of Silver Spring.
Police had said in court papers that two witnesses saw the beating. One witness told a Washington Post reporter that Mohammed cried for mercy, shouting: “Please! Please! Please!” He died a short time later.
But now, with the dismissal of the charges, the mystery of what happened that night deepened.
In court papers Friday, prosecutors said the medical examiner’s office “was unable to observe physical injuries sufficient to allow a determination on the cause of death.” They said the government also had interviewed many witnesses and examined physical evidence and photographs.
“At this time, however, based upon all of the evidence we have thus far gathered, there is an insufficient basis to sustain the charge of aggravated assault to Mr. Mohammed,” prosecutors wrote.
Beverly Fields, a spokeswoman for the D.C. medical examiner’s office, said her office’s investigation into how Mohammed died is ongoing. She said such investigations are typically completed in 60 to 90 days.
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