Harold Brazil, former four-term councilmember, has spent the last week having his name dragged through the mud in a District courtroom.
Actually, make that dragged through the urine.
In one of the more picaresque details to emerge during the bench trial before Superior Court Judge Jennifer M. Anderson, parties agreed that at some point during the Oct. 9 fracas at Georgetown’s Jinx Proof tattoo parlor, Brazil pissed himself on the waiting room floor while being either restrained or pummeled by shop employees.
Now, understand: This LL and a legion of prior LLs have generated hundreds of column inches on the topic of Brazil’s various fumblings and bumblings over the years. And when news broke last fall that Brazil, 60, had been taken into custody (!) in a tattoo parlor (!) while accompanied by two women who weren’t his wife (!), the minds of LL and other observers swam in the unusual deliciousness of the details.
And two days of argument and testimony have only added to the surfeit of salaciousness—not only that, yes, Brazil micturated on the premises, but also that he may have been provoked by a savage racial slur; that Brazil & Co. dined on a pair of pricy seafood platters before their inking jaunt; and that Brazil, according to testimony, “always drinks white wine.”
Yet all that time sitting in that courtroom has left LL feeling like he had no business hearing any of this. Because when you strip away all of the juicy details, you’re left with a case that, had the assailant not been a former public official and current attorney, would likely never have been pressed by prosecutors. Charges would have been dropped so fast, Brazil’s mustache would have fluttered in the breeze.
Say it with LL: Free Harold Brazil!
Herewith, a recounting of the fateful evening’s events: It began around 5 p.m., when Brazil took his secretary, Elena Mirsayapova, to meet mutual friend Petra Nikolow for drinks and apps at West End steakhouse Smith & Wollensky. There, they noshed on the aforementioned seafood platters while they enjoyed drinks—none had more than two over the course of 90 minutes, they testified.
During the course of the meal, Nikolow, 53 and recently separated, persuaded her friends to join her that Thursday night as she got her first-ever tattoo; they didn’t want to, initially—Mirsayapova, 30, said she wanted to go pick up her young son, and Brazil planned to go back to work. But Nikolow told them she “needed some moral support.” She’d done her research and settled on Jinx Proof in Georgetown; the three shared a cab over to the shop. Nikolow signed the necessary paperwork and paid for her tattoo—her name written in Arabic, on her shoulder. She went to the ink booth in the back of the shop while Brazil and Mirsayapova waited on a bench out front.
The trouble began, and the stories diverge, when the artist inking Nikolow started up his equipment. The buzzing sound alarmed Mirsayapova, who walked back to check on her friend. That’s when counterman Tad Peyton told her to get back out front, per store policy. All parties agree that the melee began when Brazil objected to Peyton’s order. Prosecutors claim Brazil shoved Peyton and took a swing at him; the defense holds that Peyton delivered the initial push and shouted at him, “Fuck you, nigger!”
From that point, the former legislator ended up on the floor, where Peyton and two other employees were either restraining a hostile Brazil (prosecution’s version) or savagely choking and beating a defenseless man (Brazil’s version). At that point, he urinated, either because Brazil was drunk and without his faculties or because the shop employees “beat the piss out of him,” in the words of defense lawyer G. Allen Dale. Cops came within minutes, and Brazil was taken to Sibley Hospital, where hours later he was treated for injuries to his head, neck, and knee. “I thought, Those guys are trying to kill me,” he’d later say in court.
Whose version to believe? That’s the crux of the issue here, and not an issue easily resolved. The facts are these: All of the witnesses to the brawl either work at the shop or are friends of Brazil. There’s no independent perspective on the case, no videotape, no audio recording. And, in a somewhat bizarre development, both of the tattoo shop employees had to be subpoenaed to show up in court to testify.
Subpoenas in a misdemeanor simple assault trial?
John Moustakas, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, says it’s hard to speculate why the U.S. attorney’s office would pursue the case to trial. “A lot of cases like this are no-papered, because it’s hard to determine who was the first aggressor,” he says. “And that’s even more true when the supposed aggressor gets the worst end of it.”
But sometimes, Moustakas says, prosecutors have other matters at stake in high-profile cases. They can send the message that well-known folks don’t get special treatment, or they might determine—like in the Martha Stewart insider-trading case—that “there’s some value in taking on a case with a defendant who’s noteworthy because the story will have legs…that it’ll get the message out.”
In his closing argument Monday, Dale argued that Brazil “was treated differently” because of his stature as a former councilmember, and he afterward told reporters that, “If you are a public official, there is a little higher standard.” Prosecutor Justin Dillon said in his own closing: “He should be held accountable regardless of who he is, regardless of whether the victim wanted to be here, regardless of whether the victim was hurt.”
Channing Phillips, spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office, declined to comment on the specifics of the case. “With all cases, when we go forward, it’s because we believe there’s enough evidence to warrant prosecution,” he says.
If anything gives LL pause about this whole saga, it’s Brazil’s accusations that Peyton slung the vilest of slurs. During his closing argument, Dillon called it a “convenient but incredible story.” Perhaps more taxpayer dollars can be expended to further investigate that question.
The prosecutorial frenzy might be justifiable if there were something to be gained from it—if there were, for example, a victim who’d been robbed or killed or raped. In United States v. Brazil, though, the defendant is as close as we get to a victim. If the tattoo parlor employees had really felt that there was an injustice in need of addressing, the prosecutors wouldn’t have had to drag them to the courthouse.
On the witness stand, Brazil despaired of his reputation in light of the court case, thereby opening up a complicated set of considerations custom-made for LL. Over his years in public service, Brazil didn’t always safeguard his reputation, giving new meaning to the notion of a part-time councilmember. In the Jinx Proof incident, Brazil exhibited a similar carelessness for the consequences of his actions. Though he claims not to have thrown the first punch, he did apparently unsheathe his belligerent side in the tattoo contretemps. Things spun out of control.
Last October, LL snooped around to get the insider’s account of what went down inside Jinx Proof. But he ran into some roadblocks. Peyton didn’t want to talk; neither did Brazil. LL couldn’t get in touch with anyone else there that night.
And that’s where the story should have ended, in a vaguely reported piece about a stupid scuffle with no particular upshot.
Anderson’s ruling is expected May 1.
Additional reporting by Jason Cherkis.
The Ax Man
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty digs into a ready supply of stock answers when swatting away reporters’ questions on tough topics. Anytime he’s questioned about an employee’s firing, for instance, he has an easy response: Can’t comment. It’s a personnel matter.
After he unceremoniously axed parks-and-rec director Clark E. Ray, Fenty expounded on the nature of the “personnel matter” at a Monday press conference announcing Ray’s replacement: “Think about if I went around commenting on each and every person that left the government, good or bad—no one would ever want to work for me. They would say, ‘This is the type of mayor who, when I leave the government, he’s gonna say this and that about me.’”
OK, so Fenty doesn’t dis his employees in public. He just throws them overboard for no reason. That ought to help with recruitment.
Where to start on the cravenness of Ray’s firing? Well, it was done without warning or explanation by City Administrator Dan Tangherlini in a brief Sunday evening meeting at the John A. Wilson Building. If you’re a promising municipal manager considering a job with Fenty Inc., here’s the message: This is the type of mayor who will fire a fellow who has worked hard, earned the respect of the community, been a loyal political supporter, and constantly spoken well of his boss—all with no hint of a problem or the courtesy of an explanation beyond, “We needed to shift gears.”
Fenty is a guy who embraces a private-sector management model, surrounding himself with the best deputies trusted to execute his administration’s vision. The reality is that the Fenty model is short on trust. Ray’s firing reveals a model where agency directors are subject to an unprecedented level of decision-making centralized in Tangherlini’s office.
There’s no proximate cause here, either—contrast that to the scapegoating of employment chief Summer Spencer for the summer jobs fiasco; or the axing of Child and Family Services head Sharlynn Bobo after the Banita Jacks tragedy; or property-management czar Lars Etzkorn exiting after a string of disastrous council hearings.
Nope, by virtually all accounts LL’s heard, Ray was doing a yeoman’s job running a historically troubled agency. With the appointment of replacement Ximena Hartsock, a top D.C. Public Schools administrator, DPR is now on its sixth director in six years.
“DPR isn’t perfect yet, but he was making progress,” says Mindy Moretti, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Adams Morgan who worked with Ray on issues at Walter Pierce Park. “His firing has set us back considerably.” She describes Ray as a guy who immediately answered e-mails sent on weekends, who made sure city crews showed up to clean up the parks.
In the absence of any reasonable explanation, theories abound: Was it that Ray wasn’t on board with the transfer of child-care functions out of his shop, as proposed in the mayor’s fiscal 2010 budget? Says Ray, “That was my recommendation from the beginning.”
Or was it that Ray was too buddy-buddy with council overseer Harry Thomas Jr., a Fenty foe? Says Ray, “I’ve heard that, too. I think if you look at my hearings over the past four months, he beat me to a pulp.”
Or did it have something to do with Ray’s role in the firing of Michael Williams, the former deputy director who says in a lawsuit (“Basket Case,” 4/3) that he was fired for transferring Fenty’s sons into a different DPR basketball league. Says Ray, “That was my decision [to fire Williams]. I not once spoke to the mayor or his staff about that issue.”
Or was it that Ray was making noise about challenging Phil Mendelson for his at-large council seat? Says Ray, who acknowledges considering a run, “Certainly I wasn’t making noise about it. I didn’t have time to make noise....I was filling pools!”
Or was it simply that, when asked to jump by Hizzoner, he didn’t jump high enough?
The last explanation is borne out by Fenty’s comments Monday when introducing Hartsock. “Her management acumen and ability to get things done is second to none,” he said, later adding, “I have not seen anybody who shows more attention to detail, more sense of urgency, who will challenge the people who work for her to do more.”
Ray’s firing, actually, does fit into a pattern, but not of the terminations noted above. Rather, you can lump Ray in with the likes of campaign spokesperson Alec Evans and deputy chief of staff Neil Richardson—both loyal supporters who found themselves suddenly and inexplicably on the outs with their patron.
“Adrian doesn’t believe in loyalty,” says one former Fenty supporter. “Loyalty with Adrian Fenty seems to be a one-way street.”
Ray says he was under no illusions when he took his job. “One thing I’ve learned” during years in public service, he says: “Political loyalty is hard to come by.”
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