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Yesterday evening, WJLA broke the story that the alleged Columbia Heights shooter was an intern working in Councilmember Jim Graham’s office. Graham had driven the suspect, Devyn Black, 19, to the Third District police station. Black turned himself in without incident.
At some point on Friday, Graham had heard from media sources that Black had been mentioned as a suspect. Graham tells City Desk that he tried to verify this with D.C. Police officials.
“I said ‘hey is there any truth to this?’ I was assured that there wasn’t,” Graham says. “He may have been somebody who’s name was mentioned, but that was just all talk. Just all talk.”
But Graham did confront Black. He called him into his office and questioned him about the shooting incident in which two adults were shot in the leg outside the Columbia Heights metro stop Thursday afternoon. In the shootings immediate aftermath, Graham had been on the scene talking to residents and police. That day Black attended the summer jobs program orientation at the convention center. Graham had told reporters about the incident at the convention center that involved police seizing the revolver and brass knuckles.
Graham says he asked Black about the shooting and whether he was involved. “I had previously asked him if he had done it,” he says. “He had an alibi….I didn’t know whether to believe him or not believe him. I felt that he knew more about it than what he was saying. He might have been on the scene.”
Graham says that a staffer in his office had known Black since he was a child. Black, who has a young boy of his own, started intern work this past Monday—-a week early. He worked Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, he was out. On Thursday, Black attended the orientation. He worked a full shift on Friday.
“I had various conversations with him,” Graham says. “I thought he was very intelligent, thoughtful.”
After yesterday’s press conference on gang violence held in front of the Columbia Heights metro, Graham found out that Black had emerged as the main police suspect. Assistant Chief Alfred Durham called him to break the news.
“Was I upset yesterday that somebody left my office and shot two people? Yeah…That’s pretty upsetting,” Graham says.
Black had already left Graham’s office for the day. Graham says he called the young intern’s cellphone. He encouraged him to turn himself in. Black accepted Graham’s offer to drive him to the Third District.
Black did not apologize. “He was obviously very upset,” Graham says.
“The car ride was largely in silence,” Graham says. “[Black] said he knew exactly what to do. The conversation was all about you are definitely doing the right thing. I tried to be sensitive. I don’t remember any specific conversation.”
Graham walked Black inside the Third District. Detectives were waiting. They padded down Black and then took him away. Graham was then interviewed by officers for a half hour.
“He’s entitled to his day in court,” Graham says of his former employee. “You can’t talk as if he’s been convicted. He hasn’t been convicted. He’s been charged with a crime. I’m not defending him. I’m just saying that when I spoke to him—-I wasn’t convinced that he was guilty.”
Graham isn’t sure if he wouldn’t rehire Black. “I haven’t thought of it yet,” he says. “I’m still dealing with the other issues. I have to be ready to give people an opportunity. I’ve created 70 permanent jobs in DPW for returning ex-offendes and I have done so because people need second and third and sometimes many chances.”
Graham continues: “What are we going to do? These people are going to be abandoned? I’m very very sorry that violence came out of my office…I think I did the right thing by going to get him. I think I did all the right things. We don’t do background checks on summer interns even if we did the whole point of the program is to give people opportunities. I’ve hired gang members before….And we’ve had good experiences to tell you the truth.”