Traf­fic dis­pute turns into shoot­ing that barely reg­is­ters in D.C.

As homi­cides mul­ti­ply, vex­ing city lead­ers, five are wounded at bus stop

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY PAUL DUGGAN

All af­ter­noon, Diane Of­futt sat in Court­room C-10 of D.C. Su­pe­rior Court, where newly charged de­fen­dants are pro­cessed into the sys­tem and a judge de­cides about bail. Thurs­day was like most af­ter­noons in C-10, with dozens of hand­cuffed sus­pects be­ing led in one by one from a base­ment cell­block, a te­dious shuf­fle of the bleary-eyed and rum­pled, col­lared the day be­fore. In the spec­ta­tor gallery, wait­ing five hours for her son to ap­pear, Of­futt, 63, kept nod­ding off, curled on a wooden bench.

She did not wish to be dis­turbed.

“I don’t know you,” she mut­tered af­ter a re­porter roused her from slum­ber, in­quir­ing about a burst of gun­fire at Penn­syl­va­nia and Min­nesota av­enues SE, al­legedly per­pe­trated by her son. “I got noth­ing to com­ment on that.”

Ron­nell Of­futt, 30, whose re­la­tion­ship with his mother has been rocky at times be­cause of mu­tual al­le­ga­tions of as­sault, is ac­cused of spray­ing at least nine bul­lets into a bus stop crowd on Feb. 4 dur­ing evening rush hour, in­jur­ing five peo­ple, in­clud­ing a child. De­tec­tives said the vi­o­lence grew out of a quar­rel over a fender ben­der. In a city that recorded 160 homi­cides in 2018, up 40 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year, the shoot­ing was barely no­ticed by the wider pub­lic be­cause no­body died, which seemed a mir­a­cle.

There were plenty of wounds, none life-threat­en­ing: right thigh, right wrist, left arm, left but­tock, right an­kle, right hip. A slug caught one man just below his right shoul­der blade and ex­ited through his chest. “The pro­jec­tile did not strike vi­tal or­gans or ar­ter­ies,” a de­tec­tive said. So, no fu­ner­als for a change.

But as D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), U.S. At­tor­ney Jessie K. Liu of the District and other of­fi­cials hud­dle in meet­ings, for­mu­lat­ing strate­gies to com­bat ris­ing gun vi­o­lence in Wash­ing­ton, the blood­shed at Penn­syl­va­nia and Min­nesota of­fered a re­minder of the dif­fi­culty they face. It was an­other ex­am­ple of an or­di­nary street beef, in this case a traf­fic dis­pute, blow­ing up into gun­shots, with an al­leged cul­prit whose chaotic life speaks to the im­pla­ca­ble mean­ness of poverty.

“Lockup num­ber 10, step out!” a voice in the court­room boomed

at 5:40 p.m., and here at last came Of­futt, 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, an­kles cuffed and wrists shack­led to a chain around his waist. He wore the same red sweats and pow­derblue hoodie that he had on a day and a half ear­lier when po­lice ar­rested him.

His mother, awake and up­right now in the gallery’s sec­ond row, craned her neck and threw him a small wave. Be­side her sat Ron­nell Of­futt’s girl­friend, who also had no com­ment. Shortly af­ter Of­futt was taken into cus­tody, how­ever, she gave de­tec­tives an ear­ful, de­scrib­ing the al­ter­ca­tion that pre­ceded the gun­fire, ac­cord­ing to po­lice.

In an af­fi­davit, De­tec­tive Daren Brake re­counted her state­ment:

About 4:15 p.m. Mon­day, an hour be­fore the shoot­ing, Of­futt, in his mother’s Chrysler 200, drove his girl­friend to the post of­fice at Penn­syl­va­nia and Min­nesota. There, an SUV bumped into the Chrysler, and the driv­ers ex­changed an­gry words.

“Other peo­ple in the area be­came in­volved,” Brake wrote. “The de­fen­dant’s 12- year- old daugh­ter was sit­ting in the right, rear pas­sen­ger seat. A man with a base­ball bat walked up to the ve­hi­cle and smashed a hole in the right, rear wind­shield. He then smashed the front wind­shield. Sev­eral males be­gan as­sault­ing the de­fen­dant, in­clud­ing the male with the base­ball bat,” at which point the girl­friend “got out of the car with a stun gun to as­sist the de­fen­dant, and she was also as­saulted.”

Brake said, “The 12-year-old daugh­ter jumped out of the car” and ran, just as a po­lice ve­hi­cle was pulling up. “Some­one yelled ‘Five- 0’ and peo­ple be­gan to dis­perse,” in­clud­ing Of­futt, who drove away with his girl­friend.

But he would soon re­turn, the de­tec­tive said.

Past trou­bles

In Court­room C-10, a deputy U. S. mar­shal pointed to a spot on the floor in front of the judge’s bench, and Of­futt sham­bled into place, chains rat­tling.

“His mother and fi­ancee are here to sup­port him,” his cour­tap­pointed at­tor­ney, Daniel Kovler, told the judge, ask­ing for Of­futt to be re­leased pend­ing fur­ther pro­ceed­ings. Diane Of­futt, eyes squeezed shut, nod­ded amen, as did the girl­friend, while Kovler por­trayed their man as in­dus­tri­ous and re­spon­si­ble, not some­one fit­ting the pro­file of a shooter in a me­trop­o­lis scourged by hair-trig­ger may­hem.

Four floors up in the crim­i­nal records room, though, a stack of old charg­ing doc­u­ments told a different story.

Of­futt, who did not en­ter a plea in his Thurs­day court ap­pear­ance, has never been found guilty of a vi­o­lent of­fense. Still, he’s a C-10 vet­eran.

In 2014, he was charged with nine felonies af­ter he al­legedly gave crack to a junkie and de­manded oral sex in re­turn. When the woman re­fused, de­tec­tives said, Of­futt held a pair of 9mm pistols to her head, yelling, “This is what I’m work­ing with!” The in­ci­dent oc­curred in his mother’s South­east home, an af­fi­davit says. The woman fled and sum­moned help. Later, while search­ing the res­i­dence with Diane Of­futt’s per­mis­sion, de­tec­tives con­fis­cated two hand­guns.

The case was tossed out, ap­par­ently be­cause the woman didn’t show up in court.

In 2017, two pa­trol of­fi­cers said they no­ticed Of­futt act­ing sus­pi­ciously in an al­ley near his mother’s home. As they ap­proached him, he turned and ran, his “right arm pump­ing freely as his left arm was not mov­ing, hold­ing onto the front part of his waist­band area,” one of the of­fi­cers wrote. They lost sight of him mo­men­tar­ily, then saw him “run­ning with both hands pump­ing freely.” When the of­fi­cers searched Of­futt’s path af­ter he was caught, they said, they dis­cov­ered a .40-cal­iber pistol on the ground.

A felony gun charge was dropped, ev­i­dently be­cause if he had dis­carded a weapon, no one wit­nessed it.

There were other ar­rests re­lated to ac­cu­sa­tions of as­sault, armed car­jack­ing, gam­bling and drug pos­ses­sion, but no con­vic­tions.

In 2011, he was listed as a vic­tim, and his mother wound up in hand­cuffs.

Re­spond­ing to a dis­tur­bance at Diane Of­futt’s home, pa­trol of­fi­cers were met by her son, who was on the side­walk “com­plain­ing of a burn­ing sen­sa­tion on his back,” an af­fi­davit says. The of­fi­cers “ob­served the back of the com­plainant’s shirt with a large wet spot and small par­ti­cles of noo­dles through­out his hair.” Dur­ing an ar­gu­ment, his mother had screamed at him to leave “while throw­ing the con­tents of her bowl, Fully Cooked Ra­men Noo­dles, on him,” one of the of­fi­cers wrote.

The charge, as­sault with a dan­ger­ous weapon, to wit boil­ing noo­dles, was dis­missed.

Two months later, Diane Of­futt got a civil pro­tec­tive or­der from Su­pe­rior Court, re­quir­ing Ron­nell Of­futt to stay away from her. “My son hit me in the head with a chair” and “said he will kill me,” she wrote in her pe­ti­tion. But the two ap­pear to have patched up their dif­fer­ences, and un­til his ar­rest last week, they of­ten lived to­gether in her rented du­plex five miles from the scene of the shoot­ing.

Back to the scene

Amid the fender-ben­der fra­cas, near the bustling in­ter­sec­tion just east of the Ana­cos­tia River, the driver of the po­lice ve­hi­cle that hap­pened to be pass­ing by was Cmdr. Dur­riyyah Habee­bul­lah, boss of the depart­ment’s 6th District. Af­ter all the com­bat­ants had scat­tered ex­cept for a man and a woman, since iden­ti­fied as Of­futt and his girl­friend, Habee­bul­lah got out and asked whether they needed help, ac­cord­ing to De­tec­tive Brake’s af­fi­davit.

Shirt­less in the 55-de­gree evening, wear­ing black pants and a knit cap, Of­futt cursed at her, the af­fi­davit says. To the com­man­der, he seemed “hyped up as if some­thing had hap­pened or was go­ing to hap­pen,” she later re­ported. Be­fore the cou­ple pulled away in the sil­ver Chrysler, Habee­bul­lah took a photo of Of­futt and noted the car’s li­cense plate.

The girl­friend, in her po­lice in­ter­view, said she and Of­futt “went to a store to clean up” be­cause Of­futt had been in­jured, ac­cord­ing to the af­fi­davit. Then they headed back to­ward Penn­syl­va­nia and Min­nesota, where some of the par­tic­i­pants in the fight were known to hang around out­side Best Car Wash, be­hind the post of­fice. It was close to 5: 15 p.m. when they stopped near the in­ter­sec­tion. Brake wrote, “She tried to con­vince him not to get out of the car,” but, ac­cord­ing to her ac­count, Of­futt’s mind was made up, and he walked out of sight.

“He was gone for less than five min­utes,” the de­tec­tive said. “While he was out of the car, she heard sev­eral gun­shots.”

It’s un­clear whether any of the four men who were wounded, most or all of them in their 20s, had taken part in the ear­lier dis­pute, but cer­tainly the small­est vic­tim wasn’t in­volved: She’s a 5- year- old girl, one of a gag­gle of chil­dren who were wait­ing with an adult fe­male rel­a­tive at the Metrobus shel­ter in front of the post of­fice. As bul­lets flew and the shel­ter glass ex­ploded in shards, “the rel­a­tive and her chil­dren hit the ground,” and she saw that the girl’s right arm was bleed­ing, the af­fi­davit says. As for the men: One, a whiskey drinker, “was pass­ing along his Hen­nessy bot­tle to ap­prox­i­mately 15 peo­ple” at the bus stop when a slug ripped into his back, Brake said. One was hit twice and had four holes in him. One didn’t re­al­ize he had been wounded in his left leg un­til some­body pointed it out. One “was in a lot of pain as he was be­ing in­ter­viewed as the bul­let en­tered his right thigh and did not exit.”

Clos­ing the case took less than two days. Sur­veil­lance video pulled from the in­ter­sec­tion showed a gun­man match­ing the de­scrip­tion of the bare-chested mo­torist whom Habee­bul­lah had pho­tographed, Brake’s af­fi­davit says. Check­ing the plate num­ber that she had taken down, de­tec­tives learned that the Chrysler was reg­is­tered to Diane Of­futt. Be­fore dawn on Wed­nes­day, her son was be­hind bars.

To hear his at­tor­ney tell it, Ron­nell Of­futt strives to be a pro­duc­tive cit­i­zen.

“He’s a self-em­ployed car de­tailer,” Kovler said Thurs­day in court, shortly af­ter be­ing in­tro­duced to his newest client. Stand­ing be­fore Mag­is­trate Judge Sean C. Sta­ples, Kovler said, “He sells cloth­ing on In­sta­gram that he de­signs him­self.”

On the edge of a hard bench, Diane Of­futt agreed word­lessly with a nod, amen.

So surely he should be al­lowed to wait at home for his trial, un­der in­ten­sive court su­per­vi­sion. “He has two kids he sup­ports,” Kovler said.

Plus, if Of­futt truly was the gun­man — Kovler wasn’t con­ced­ing that, of course, but let’s sup­pose for ar­gu­ment’s sake that Of­futt ac­tu­ally did it — well, he was ob­vi­ously pro­voked, wasn’t he?

“He was at­tempt­ing to as­sault peo­ple who at­tempted to as­sault him,” Kovler said.

When the lawyer fin­ished, the judge hardly paused.

“He goes back there and shoots up the en­tire area?” Sta­ples said. “In­clud­ing a child? I don’t con­sider that an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse.”

And away went Ron­nell Of­futt to the cell­block — no bail. Turn­ing as he neared a side door, he smiled at his mother, who gave him an­other wave. On her way out of the court­room, she stopped to talk with Kovler about get­ting her car back from ev­i­dence im­pound, then headed down a hall to­ward the streets.

She still had noth­ing to com­ment.

“I only want to talk to God,” she said. “And my son.”

CLARENCE WIL­LIAMS/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

A D.C. po­lice of­fi­cer guards the scene at Penn­syl­va­nia and Min­nesota av­enues SE af­ter a shoot­ing on Feb. 4. Among the wounded was a 5-year-old girl who was wait­ing at the crowded Metrobus stop.

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