Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Hardcore punk band Agnostic Front played at nightclub DC9 on October 14 as part of their “Victim in Pain Tour.” The title of their tour would take on dark irony at about 2:30 a.m., when, following their performance, police found Ali Ahmed Mohammed splayed on the sidewalk just down the street. Five men who work at DC9 are accused of putting him there, after Mohammed threw a brick through one of DC9’s windows. Metropolitan Police chief Cathy Lanier called the alleged violence “savage” and “vigilante justice.”
But so far, many of the venue’s supporters just aren’t convinced. DC9 isn’t that kind of place. It’s not some shady top-40 club where you can get stabbed for spilling a mojito on some guy’s Air Dunks, or where the bouncers are thugs with hourly wages. “I’ve never heard of them having a fight there,” says Skip Coburn of the D.C. Nightlife Association.
Though the soft spoken Coburn might not seem like the type to hang out at a trendy rock club, he does. In order to keep an eye on his association’s membership, Coburn venue-hops each weekend. He’s visited DC9 plenty and knows the staff well and can’t imagine them beating a 27 year-old Ethiopian man (or anyone) to death. As for owner Bill Spieler, who was also arrested for the crime, that’s an impossible pill to swallow: “He’s a really nice guy. I can’t see him beating up anybody.”
He’s careful to say everyone will have to wait for the facts to emerge, but Coburn repeats some of the rumors that have circulated within the pro-DC9 crowd: That the five men who chased Mohammed—Spieler and employees Darryl Carter, Reginald Phillips, Evan Preller, and Arthur Zaloga—after he shattered the club’s window in retaliation for not being let in had merely tackled him. That they let him go after, and Mohammed walked away unharmed. That police arrived on the scene to arrest a conscious and alert Mohammed who somehow, later on, died in police custody. And, most importantly, that a recording of a 911 call placed to police that night would exonerate the defendants. The defendants’ attorneys also say their clients are innocent of the charges the police originally made, and that once the facts are out, that’ll be clear to everyone.
But a police source involved in the investigation into Mohammed’s death says those rumors are likely wishful thoughts on the part of DC9 fans. (The source spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to talk publicly about the case.) He says it’s unlikely that Mohammed died merely of a tackle, and that he would bet that a least one of the five arrested will face murder charges. He also claims, as do recently filed charging documents, that the first officer on the scene began administering CPR to Mohammed.
“That’s not something you do if a guy is conscious,” the source says. The source believes Mohammed was probably already dead, though, when the officer attempted to save him. Court papers concur, stating that when cops arrived on the scene after responding to “a report for destruction of property,” they found Mohammed “lying on the ground, unconscious, and not breathing.”
The investigator also debunks the 911 recording exoneration-theory. He says he’s listened to the 911 call people are talking about, and it doesn’t get the accused off the hook. Far from it.
The source says the 911 call is “pretty long” and was made by one of the suspects who chased down Mohammed. The suspect called the cops from a cellphone to report that someone had smashed DC9’s window, and then stayed on the line throughout the footchase. “There’s parts they wouldn’t like to have heard,” is what the cop says of the recording’s contents.
The cop says the two witnesses whose accounts appear in police documents are the best kind for authorities: “uninvolved.” They have no relationship with either DC9 or the victim. And according to those accounts, the story is simple.
Around the time of Mohammed’s demise, one witness who was standing on 9th street saw Mohammed go by with a brick in his hand. Just seconds later, the witness heard the sound of glass breaking and then “saw Mr. Mohammed running north with 5 males chasing him.” The witness watched as Preller caught up with Mohammed and tossed him to the ground.
The witness “then watched the defendants Carter, Zaloga, Speiler and Phillips kick and stomp the victim on the head and the body as defendant Preller held the victim down.” The witness claims to have watched Spieler “kick Mr. Mohammed several times, then stop when the police approached and attempt to flag down police.”
The other witness initially reported a similar story, according to documents, but then changed it. The witness “walked away for a moment during the assault,” so couldn’t be sure “what role Carter, Spieler and Phillips played in the incident.”
The source offers that the five suspects may have been on automatic pilot: “Sometimes people do things and they regret what they do afterward.”
Of course, it’s no surprise police investigators tell the same story as the charging documents they filed, or that they back up the case MPD first laid out on Friday. And the results of the medical examiner’s autopsy—which wasn’t able to determine a cause of death immediately last week—could throw the incident down yet another path. But the police account may help explain why Lanier was so quick to condemn the defendants, even though authorities wound up not having enough evidence to charge them with second-degree murder as they initially planned.
For now, the suspects have been charged with aggravated assault and placed in a high-intensity supervision program, which includes electronic monitoring. They will appear in front of Judge Thomas Motley on Nov. 8.