More than a year before police accused Gerald Brevard III of carrying out deadly shootings targeting five homeless men in D.C. and New York City, he was facing several felony charges in Virginia for another string of unsettling crimes that could have landed him in prison for years. Brevard was charged with slamming a hotel worker’s head into a wall, before crawling on top of the dazed woman and trying to smother her with his hand. She screamed, and he fled. Weeks later, he trailed another hotel worker, before running away from police and breaking into an apartment. A police officer found a fully loaded pistol magazine in a squad car after transporting Brevard. Fairfax County prosecutors offered Brevard a deal to plead guilty to two misdemeanors. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors did not charge him with possessing the magazine, which is a felony under Virginia law for anyone with a serious criminal record, as Brevard had. He served a few months in jail.
The case has become a political flash point, highlighting clashes between a wave of liberal prosecutors who have responded to calls for criminal justice reform after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and conservatives who have blamed them for making their communities less safe. To some police officers, prosecutors and Virginia’s new attorney general, the Brevard case represents a failure of the criminal justice system. They argue that a tougher approach might have put Brevard away and possibly prevented the horrific attacks on five homeless men that grabbed national attention, the Washington Post reports. Brevard cycled through the justice systems in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., and racked up dozens of charges. His family aid he never received proper mental health treatment for serious issues that included schizophrenia. Brevard himself was homeless at times. “But for the decision to go lenient … he would be in prison,” said Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said of the Fairfax County prosecutor’s handling of Brevard. “Instead he went back on the street and shot five innocent victims, and now two tragically lost their lives.”