Barnhill Case: Only the Tip of the Iceberg?
On the October 8, 2014, former DC Cop Linwood Barnhill was sentenced to seven years behind bars and ten years of supervised release for two counts of pandering a minor and one count of possession of child pornography. He will also be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
One question, of many, remains: why did the prosecutors fail to ask for restitution for the victims? The U.S. Attorney’s Office and Barnhill’s attorney negotiated a seven-year sentence, which is lower than the nine to twelve years’ imprisonment that the federal sentencing guidelines recommend for these charges. Judge Rosemary M. Collyer questioned whether the proposed punishment was too lenient and asked for more information.
In light of Judge Collyer’s questioning, it is the opinion of Amara that the judge would have been likely to accept a plea deal including restitution for the victims, paid for by Barnhill. Barnhill is an individual who likely possessed a bank account and other easily accessible assets. It is a shame that the prosecution did not ask for the seizure of Barnhill’s assets, which could have gone directly to his victims. This money could have been used to cover the cost of therapy, safe housing, necessities, and even college educations. Instead, the victims, as far as Amara is aware, were left with absolutely no compensation for the pain and trauma they endured at the hands of a DC police officer.
No Safe Means to Testify
On Thursday, Judge Collyer accepted the negotiated sentence, although she made some very interesting remarks regarding the circumstances of the case. Collyer recognized that a plea sentence prevents re-victimization of the victims through avoiding a trial and lengthy time on the witness stand. These girls were already victimized at very young age, and the judge queried whether we, as a society, really want to victimize them again by having a trial. Collyer found that the victims’ rights must override societal interest in a public criminal trial.
We at Amara respect their wish not to testify, but believe Judge Collyer raised appropriate concerns about the consequences of the sentencing. Amara dreams of a day when victims will be given a supportive and safe environment for testifying, as well as adequate social services to meet their physical and emotional needs during the trial process.
Furthermore, there were likely facts about the case that didn’t come to light during the sentencing hearing due to the constraints of the plea agreement. Judge Collyer accepted the agreed upon assertion that the victims did not know that Barnhill was a police officer, which implies he did not use his power as police officer to coerce the youth. Nevertheless, Judge Collyer pointed out that Barnhill was able to recognize all signs of vulnerability, because of his position as a police officer in the community. The victims were frequent runaways, so he perfectly knew their vulnerability, according to Judge Collyer.
Afterwards, one of the victim’s lawyers, William Johnson, told a completely different story and plans to sue the city on behalf of his client. “The victim that I represent understood him to be a cop,” he said. “She actually rode in a car with him, and he pulled a gun from underneath his seat and bragged about being a D.C. police officer.” She even talked about other police officers coming into the residence of Barnhill. According to these statements, there is reason enough to believe that the victims have an actual fear of reprisal from the police officers. Unfortunately, Barnhill’s case is not an outlier.
Not an Isolated Incident
Barnhill’s arrest followed a string of controversial events for the DC police department. Police officer Marc Washington was arrested on child pornography charges in the same month of Barnhill’s arrest. They both worked at the 7th district, but authorities say there is no connection between the cases. A third officer was under investigation for possibly tipping off Washington about his arrest.
Nevertheless, the Amara Legal Center is very thankful for the speed at which the case was prosecuted and resolved. We would like to thank Judge Collyer for the seriousness with which she approached the sentencing of Barnhill. The focus should not only be on that fact that a DC cop has been found guilty and sentenced for commercially exploiting children in our city, but also that there are numerous other instances of children in the District of Columbia being bought and sold for sex against their will right now.
We sincerely hope that this case will highlight the issue of commercial sexual exploitation in our community and cause concerned citizens to get involved in the movement to end sexual exploitation of children.
By Daan Krauss