What a week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week is on Gregory Elliott, a special education teacher at T.C. Williams High School. Elliot also goes by the name of “Sugar Bear” for the D.C.-based go-go band Experience Unlimited, and their song “Da’ Butt” from the Spike Lee movie “School Daze” was featured at the Oscars, along with actress Glenn Close dancing to it.

This week was full of news.

City Manager Mark Jinks hinted at retiring, there was a chlorine spill at Lake Cook and the Alexandria Fire Department is contending with reports of racism, sexism and favoritism.

Additionally, a cyberattack on a gas pipeline resulted in a state of emergency throughout Virginia. We asked readers about it in our weekly poll, and out of 250 responses only 31% (78 votes) considered making alternate travel plans.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Go-go music star-turned Alexandria teacher ‘Sugar Bear’ in the spotlight after Oscars shoutout
  2. Landmark Mall developers to field public question in forum this week
  3. UPDATE: Woman arrested for firing gun near Alexandria Courthouse in Old Town
  4. AHDC proposes nearly 500 units of affordable housing for Arlandria
  5. ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria
  6. Here’s which City Council candidates signed the new ‘Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights’ pledge
  7. Girlfriend of murder suspect arrested for breaking into home and beating up witness
  8. Election: Stark differences as Wilson and Silberberg face off in mayoral debate
  9. Racism, sexism and favoritism reported within the Alexandria Fire Department
  10. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  11. Wilson and Silberberg clash over new challenges, old wounds, and The Golden Girls

Have a safe weekend!

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Morning Notes

Virginia mask mandate tweaked by governor — “The amended executive order follows CDC guidance that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask outdoors when alone or in small gatherings. Masks remain required in shared indoors settings as well as outdoors at large crowded events such as concerts, sporting events or graduation ceremonies.” [Patch]

Federal grand jury charges Arlington lawyer with paying underage victims for sex — “Matthew Erausquin, 46, was arrested in November after a 1.5-year-long investigation. He was charged in Alexandria federal court with sex trafficking minors, producing child pornography, and charges related to transporting or forcing victims to cross state lines for sex.” [ARLnow]

Misha’s Coffee aims to open second location in May — “A café employee said that Misha’s is tentatively planning to open the second location in May. The brand’s iconic orange sign is already hanging at the remodeled waterfront building, which was formerly home to Olde Town Gemstones.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy and windy (during the day). High around 70F. Winds WNW at 20 to 30 mph. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph… Clear skies (in the evening). Gusty winds early. Low 44F. Winds NW at 20 to 30 mph. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Investigator assistant — “The investigator assistant is responsible for providing administrative support to the investigative unit and performing research on data to assist in identifying cases of potential overpayment or abuse.” [Indeed]

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After more than a year since closing its doors to the general public, the Alexandria Courthouse is reopening on Monday, May. 3.

That means that anyone will be able to walk into the courthouse (520 King Street in Old Town) without an appointment, including the Clerk of Court’s office, which will be open for normal business 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the week, except for holidays.

It also means that the Clerk’s office will no longer do business by email.

“Concurrently with reopening, the Clerk’s office will no longer accept pleadings, copy requests, concealed carry applications, notary oath applications, or filings of any kind, by email to [email protected],” the Clerk’s office said on its website.

The courthouse was deep-cleaned last fall after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, and there was a small outbreak earlier this year. Thousands of cases had to be put on the back burner during the pandemic.

The U.S. District Court in the city’s Carlyle neighborhood began reopening in March.

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A 20-year-old Alexandria man faces life in prison plus 13 years for five felonies, including the murder of 47-year-old John Pope last fall in the West End.

Pope was shot to death on Sept. 30 at his home in the 5900 block of Quantrell Avenue in the Mayflower Square apartment complex. He later died at the hospital. It was the second murder (of three) that occurred in Alexandria last year.

Tavon Lanier, who was 19 at the time the incident occurred, was indicted with:

  • First degree murder
  • Use of a firearm in commission of murder
  • Robbery
  • Use of a firearm in the commission of a robbery
  • Illegal possession of a firearm

“Alexandria Police responded to the apartment and found John Pope, a 47-year-old Alexandria resident, lying on the floor with an apparent gunshot wound to the abdomen,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter’s office said in a statement. “First Degree Murder and Robbery are both punishable by life in prison. The two Use of a Firearm charges carry a maximum penalty of 8 years in prison. The Illegal Possession of a Firearm charge carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison. Therefore, the maximum total sentence in this matter is life in prison plus 13 years.”

A trial date has not been set.

As previously reported, Lanier was released on bond just eight days before Pope was killed. He was arrested on Sept. 22 for for allegedly breaking into his girlfriend’s apartment, stalking and threatening her and was released on bond by the magistrate’s office.

Lanier was convicted of identify theft in 2019, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail with 55 days suspended.

Photo via Facebook

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An Alexandria man has pleaded guilty to two counts of producing child pornography, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Abel Amcrocio, 54, was arrested last year, and after pleading guilty, is scheduled to be sentenced on August 4. Amcrocio faces a minimum penalty of 15 years in prison.

The press release said the child pornography started when Ambrocio, who is a Mexican national, developed an online relationship with a woman in Honduras over an unnamed social media platform.

“From around October 2018 through at least February 2019, Ambrocio instructed the woman to record and send him over 100 images of herself sexually abusing her two children — an approximately three-year-old boy and an approximately ten-year-old girl,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release. “Ambrocio instructed the mother to engage in specific sex acts with her children and record herself doing so on multiple occasions, even when she told Ambrocio that one of the children was in pain and crying from the previous sex act.”

In March 2019, Ambrocio distributed images of the woman abusing her three-year-old on a social media platform.

“The defendant’s conduct, which caused the sexual abuse of two young children by their own mother, is both horrific and heartbreaking,” said Raj Parekh, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “The production of child pornography inflicts devastating and lifelong harm to society’s most vulnerable victims. [The Eastern District of Virginia] is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to bring child sexual predators to justice.”

The press release noted that the case was brought forward as part of Project Safe Childhood, an initiative launched in 2006 to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse.

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An 18-year-old Fairfax County man is under investigation for firing gunshots in the West End, and soon faces a series of court appearances on gun-and-driving-related charges.

At around 11 p.m. on November 27, gunfire was heard coming from the front-facing front floor balcony of a home in the 5400 block of Richenbacher Avenue, which is near Holmes Run and about a mile away from Inova Alexandria Hospital.

Witnesses told police that they heard three gunshots in rapid succession followed by two single shots a short time later, according to a search warrant affidavit. A woman told police that she heard eight gunshots, and a man reported also hearing gunshots the night before. Another man who was interviewed saw three young men run from the area of the neighborhood playground. It was near there on the ground floor balcony of a home that police found three shell casings and blood droplets.

The suspect was arrested after being pulled over in the 3600 block of Russell Road by an Alexandria Police detective on Dec. 1. Under the driver’s seat police found a 40 caliber handgun loaded with two Speer 40 Smith and Wesson bullets.

“It should be noted that the shell casing recovered from the scene of the crime (were) also Speer 40 Smith and Wesson,” the affidavit said.

The suspect was arrested and was released on bond that same day. He goes to court this and next month for a concealed carry violation, possession of a firearm in a school zone, driving without a license and driving with tinted windows.

There was a 49% increase in shots fired calls for service in 2020 over 2019. In January, APD released figures showing 57 incidents in 2020 versus the 37 incidents the previous year.

Map via Google Maps

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After 16 months in operation, the Alexandria Drug Treatment Court has its first graduate. The program, which the Alexandria Commonwealth Attorney’s Office started with little funding, also just got a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The Treatment Court launched in September 2019 as an alternative to jail for individuals with substance abuse issues. Most participants have been to jail multiple times. Participants usually meets every Thursday in the Alexandria Courthouse, although the building at 520 King Street is largely shut down now due to COVID-19 and meetings have been held virtually.

Program graduate Kim Christian (not her real name) entered the five-phase program in Nov. 2019 and graduated in a virtual ceremony ahead of schedule, as two years is the program average. She regularly met with a case manager, a probation officer, participated in recovery programs and regularly checked up with the court.

Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter said the virtual ceremony was a moving experience.

“One of the most wonderful things about the ceremony was the fact that the graduate, for the first time, had people within the criminal justice system trying to help her achieve something,” Porter told ALXnow. “The graduation ceremony was a true testament to the power of the program, and making a change.”

The new funds will allow Porter to triple the program for up to 30 participants, hire a full-time bilingual therapist, and also hire a treatment court coordinator to take administrative duties off the plate of David Lord, the assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney who has largely led the effort. Drug testing for participants will also be expanded.

Porter said it will take six-to-nine months to hire the new staff and expand the program. In the meantime, he said, the program will be slowly ramped up to increase the number of participants.

“The idea is to try to finally put some resources into them to kind of break that cycle of addiction and then recidivism,” Porter said. “One graduate is great, but we need more graduates.”

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Updated 2:25 p.m. — There has been an outbreak of COVID-19 in the office of the Alexandria Clerk of Court.

The office is only operating with four employees out of 22, and may shut down, Clerk of Court Greg Parks told ALXnow in an email.

Mayor Justin Wilson was not aware of the outbreak, and the city tells ALXnow that three of the 22 employees in the Clerk’s Office tested positive for COVID-19 over the last few days and are isolating at home while they recover.

“Four supervisors are working from the Courthouse in separate areas, while three are working from home to answer phone calls,” Craig Fifer, the city’s director of communications told ALXnow. “The other employees are currently quarantining at home out of an abundance of caution until they complete the appropriate contact tracing and testing protocols.”

Fifer said that the courthouse will not shut down.

“There is no significant impact on court cases, which were already operating with limited dockets,” Fifer said. “Urgent matters such as protective orders are still receiving priority handling. Less urgent matters such as notary commissions and marriage licenses may encounter some delay this week while in-person appointments are suspended, but will still be processed as quickly as possible. Matters that can be resolved over the phone or through video appointments will continue to be handled that way.”

The Alexandria courthouse has been closed to the general public since the onset of the pandemic, and operations at the clerk’s office have been heavily impacted with staff mostly operating online. Thousands of cases have been put on the back burner.

In October, the courthouse was deep cleaned after an employee of the General District Court tested positive for COVID-19.

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This was a big week for Alexandria.

Our top story this week was the Alexandria School Board’s decision to reopen schools for students with disabilities, while the future reopening of school for elementary, middle and high schoolers remains in doubt.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that the only feasible option for reopening schools — based on distancing and staffing constraints — would be for students to rotate to in-person schooling only one day per week. Hutchings also appeared on CNN and said that ACPS is not likely to fully reopen until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus.

We also reported that the Alexandria City Council approved plans for Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus and the North Potomac Yard development plan, virtually paving the way for the college to open its doors to hundreds of students by 2024.

“This is a very significant set of decisions for the city, and is really going to shape, not just a portion of our city, but really the entirety of our city for a long period of time to come,” said Mayor Justin Wilson.

On the coronavirus front, there are now 75 deaths in Alexandria and there are now or have been more than 4,100 cases since the pandemic began in March. Latino residents continue to lead the case count.

Governor Ralph Northam and Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine were in the city on Monday to unveil a team of new zero emission DASH electric buses.

We also reported that the City Council unanimously approved naming the 1000 block of Montgomery Street in Old Town “Earl F. Lloyd Way” in honor of the first Black man to ever play in the National Basketball Association.

Restaurant-wise, we spoke with one of the owners of a pizza and burger joint that is taking over the former location of Pizzeria Paradiso on lower King Street. The Chewish Deli is also now open in Old Town, and the owner of Del Ray Boccato says that his gelato shop will soon open.

Additionally, more than 175 people participated in our weekly poll. With the November 3 election around the corner, this week we asked about voting plans, and 65% of respondents voted by mail/absentee, 31% plan to vote on election day, and 4% are not voting.

Here are ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria:

  1. School Board Shelves Plan to Reopen Schools in 2021, Students with Disabilities Transitioning Back Next Month
  2. City Releasing Torpedo Factory Draft Action Plan Today
  3. City Council Approves Virginia Tech Innovation Campus and North Potomac Yard Development Plan
  4. Alexandria Student Called N-Word in Online Forum, and Not By Another Student
  5. Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
  6. The Chewish Deli Opens New Location in Old Town
  7. One Arrested After Attempted Armed Robbery in Alexandria’s West End
  8. Report: ACPS Superintendent Sends Child to Bishop Ireton High School
  9. Female Suspect Flees, Nothing Taken in Attempted Old Town Bank Robbery
  10. Alexandria and Arlington Want a New Future for the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center
  11. Alexandria Courthouse Deep Cleaned After Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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The Alexandria Courthouse was deep cleaned last weekend after an employee of the General District Court tested positive to COVID-19, according to the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office.

“On Friday October 16, 2020 the Alexandria General District Court was notified that an employee tested positive for COVID-19,” Undersheriff Tim Gleeson of the Judicial and Special Operations Bureau told ALXnow in an email.

Gleeson said that the court “immediately” asked for help from the Virginia Supreme Court and the Alexandria Health Department. He also said that this is the first time anyone in the courthouse has tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began in March.

“Following the Health Department’s guidance, the remaining Court dockets of the day were continued to later dates in order to get the Court deep cleaned,” Gleeson said. “The deep cleaning of the General District Court, including all courtrooms, public spaces, and workspaces was completed on Friday afternoon.”

Court operations continued on Monday, October 19.

As previously reported, thousands of cases have been continued in Alexandria due to the pandemic.

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