Sharon Marcus-Kurn, Chief
Mark O'Brien, Deputy Chief (Felony Sex Offense AUSAs)
Kenechukwu Okocha, Deputy Chief (Felony DV Sex Offense AUSAs)
Kathleen Kern, Deputy Chief (Misdemeanor DV and Sex Offense AUSAs)
The Sex Offense and Domestic Violence Section (SODV) has responsibility for the investigation and prosecution of a wide variety of cases brought in D.C. Superior Court involving intrafamily offenses (more commonly known as “domestic violence”) (violence between former or current intimate partners, family members, roommates, and/or individuals who have a romantic partner in common), sexual abuse of children and adults, child physical abuse, sex and labor trafficking, voyeurism, stalking, unlawful publication of illicit images, and violations of the D.C. Sex Offender Registration Act laws. AUSAs assigned to this Section are supported by Victim Witness Assistance advocates and two child interview specialists who have vast expertise in the areas of domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault, along with paralegals and legal assistants.
SODV has three components: Domestic Violence and Sex Offense Misdemeanors, Domestic Violence and Child Physical Abuse Felonies, and Felony I Sex Offenses.
Domestic Violence and Sex Offense Misdemeanors
Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Caseload: Ten misdemeanor Domestic Violence AUSAs handle an enormous volume (approximately 500 pending cases at any given time) of misdemeanor domestic violence cases including simple assault, destruction of property, threats, weapons charges, stalking, and violations of civil protection orders.
Misdemeanor Specialized Caseload: Three additional misdemeanor AUSAs are assigned to a specialized caseload of misdemeanor sexual abuse, child physical abuse, voyeurism, stalking, and sex offender registration cases. These AUSAs are selected from the group of regular Domestic Violence Misdemeanor AUSAs, undergo additional training on working with children and other vulnerable victims, and typically extend the duration of their misdemeanor rotation to handle these sensitive cases.
Vertical Prosecution: Cases involving physical or sexual abuse are often accompanied by unique challenges, particularly when such abuse arises from within a cycle of domestic violence. To address these challenges, the assigned AUSA and victim advocate work closely with the victim to develop a relationship of trust that lasts through the pendency of the case (and sometimes beyond) and the AUSA originally assigned to the case keeps the case until it is closed by way of conviction or dismissal, or the AUSA rotates out of the SODV.
Felony Domestic Violence & Child Physical Abuse
Six felony Domestic Violence and Child Physical Abuse AUSAs handle the most serious felony domestic violence assaults. Most of the cases involve shootings, stabbings, strangulation, kidnapping, arson, chronic abuse over significant periods of time, and/or serious bodily injury. They also handle cases involving the unlawful publication of illicit images, felony stalking, and voyeurism. Finally, these AUSAs also handle cases involving the physical abuse of infants and children, from beatings and severe neglect to burns to near fatal shaking. These cases also pose unique challenges, including litigating challenge to the competency and suggestivity of the young victims.
Warrant Review: Two additional Felony 1 AUSAs, Rikki McCoy and Lindsay Sutenberg, are responsible for the review of the extremely high volume of domestic violence, sexual assault, child cruelty, and other SODV arrest warrants and requests for search warrants presented to the United States Attorney’s Office by numerous local and federal agencies. These AUSAs communicate with the victim in each case, and gather additional evidence and resources as needed, such as advocate assistance and witness security screening. They frequently assist with additional investigation from the detective or officer so that there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a warrant. Finally, the conduct extensive training to local and federal law enforcement officers on a variety of legal and investigative issues.
Felony I Sex Offenses
Fourteen senior SODV Felony 1 AUSAs handle all felony sexual abuse cases (involving both adult and child victims). They also partner with AUSAs in the Office’s Criminal Division on federal cases involving hands-on sexual abuse, including interstate kidnapping and rape, sex trafficking of children and adults, and other forms of exploitation of children. The felony 1 SODV AUSAs undergo a significant amount of specialized training and develop expertise in such areas as forensic interviewing of children, DNA evidence, toxicological evidence, the medical, psychological, and neurological aspects of abuse, and effectively and sensitively interviewing and working with traumatized victims.
100 Day Cases: In most felony sex offense cases, defendants are held prior to trial. As a result, they must be indicted within ninety days and trial must begin before the 100th day after detention.
Expert Guidance: Effectively dealing with the numerous sensitive issues inherent in sex offense cases requires AUSAs to work closely with physicians, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, DNA examiners, computer forensic examiners, victim advocates, social workers, guardians ad litem, forensic child interviewers and child therapists at the Children’s Advocacy Center, and civil attorneys involved in parallel abuse and neglect proceedings (in intra-family child abuse cases).
Cold Case Sexual Assault Initiative
This Initiative was created, and is run, by Felony 1 AUSA Amy Zubrensky, in collaboration with MPD’s Cold Case Sexual Assault Unit. The purpose of the Initiative is to reinvestigate unsolved sexual assault cases and bring charges where appropriate. Investigations focus on the most violent serial offenders and cases that would benefit from advanced forensic testing, testing of secondary items and retesting of evidence items.
- The Initiative has solved approximately 40 stranger sexual assaults that occurred between 1998 and 2013, and indicted three “John Doe” DNA profiles responsible for assaults on five different victims.
- The Initiative has recently expanded its partnership to include MPD’s Youth Investigations Division, working with detectives who investigate crimes against children for open cases that fit these criteria.
- The Initiative works with the FBI, USMS and regional law enforcement partners in Maryland and Virginia on cases where serial offenders crossed state lines and committed multiple assaults across the jurisdictions.
Clergy Abuse Reporting Line and Website
In response to the August 14, 2018, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Office of Attorney General report documenting widespread clergy abuse in the six Pennsylvania dioceses and the Archdiocese of Washington’s list of former clergy in the Washington, D.C. parishes who were credibly accused of sexually abusing minors, SODV spearheaded the creation of the District of Columbia Clergy Abuse Reporting Line and Website. A Felony 1 AUSA reviews each in-coming report and forwards the information to relevant law enforcement, prosecuting offices, and/or victim advocates. If the report alleges potential criminal activity in the District of Columbia, a prosecutor and advocate are assigned to partner with local or federal law enforcement and work with the victim.
Intimate Partner Violence Prevention Initiative
In 2019, SODV created and launched this Initiative to strengthen expertise within the Office on the multifaceted issues surrounding the very serious national and local issue of intimate partner violence (IPV) and to allow these experts to serve as a resource within and outside the office. This Initiative is spearheaded by Felony 1 AUSA Ryan Creighton, who handles a hybrid caseload involving sexual and physical IPV cases and co-chairs certain IPV homicides and federal cases. AUSA Creighton also collaborates with community partners to develop new strategies to address IPV and serves as the Office’s point person for IPV-related community engagement and committees; legislative efforts; governmental, non-governmental, judicial, and office training; and other projects and outreach requiring expertise on IPV issues.
Local and Federal Partners
SODV members work closely with local and federal law enforcement agencies and community organizations on issues related to domestic violence, sexual abuse, trafficking, and other forms of crimes against children, including conducting training on relevant topics. These community organizations include the Child & Adolescent Protection Center of Children’s National Health System, the D.C. Children’s Advocacy Center, the Domestic Violence Intake Center at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, the D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiners, the Network for Victim Recovery of D.C., the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing, D.C. Rape Crisis Center, George Washington University, and Medstar Washington Hospital Center. SODV AUSAs and advocates also conduct regular training on sexual assault and consent to students at high schools in the Washington D.C. area.