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Damon Barnes was shot dead by police in the stairwell of a Southeast D.C. apartment building two years ago. The unemployed 28-year-old left behind no money and owned no property. His family, however, is now embroiled in a bitter and bizarre fight over who should control Barnes’ estate, which contains just one asset: a pending wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit seeking $115 million in damages from the District. And the whole mess turns on one simple, yet unanswered, question: Who is Barnes’ rightful heir? For a time, everyone agreed that person was DeJanay Barnes — the two-and-a-half-year-old daughter of Barnes’ longtime girlfriend, Ericka Robinson. But now, Damon Barnes’ parents question whether DeJanay is their grandchild. They note an injury their son received more than a year before DeJanay’s birth that they say may have left Barnes unable to father a child. A D.C. judge has ordered Robinson and the child to undergo a DNA test in an attempt to determine whether Barnes is the biological father. But even a genetic test may not resolve the issue. Robinson’s lawyers say if there is no match, they will challenge the results on the basis that the child’s DNA sample was compared with a sample from Barnes’ parents and not Barnes himself. And if the test proves that DeJanay is Barnes’ daughter, it is not clear whether Robinson would control the estate. After all, the 28-year-old D.C. Council staffer signed papers agreeing that Barnes’ father, Linwood, would be named personal representative of the estate. Clifton Mount, a partner at D.C.’s Bode & Grenier who represents the estate, says Barnes’ parents were not interested in challenging DeJanay’s paternity and only did so after Robinson accused them of trying to defraud her. “Their whole purpose was to get some justice for a shooting that they believe was wrong,” Mount says. “They have been forced to get involved in litigation questioning the paternity of what they thought to be remained of Damon, and it’s not pleasant to them.” Robinson’s lawyer, Gregory Lattimer, says his client was lied to by Barnes’ parents and is now being mistreated by the court after standing up for the rights of her child. In particular, Lattimer argues, the judge had no right to order a DNA test. Lattimer also argues that most of the evidence in the case, including papers filed by Barnes’ parents, points to Barnes being the father. “A mother who has done nothing wrong other than look out for the best interests of her child is being degraded and humiliated by a court that has no regard for the law and is having her do things that under the law have no real significance,” Lattimer says. A SHOOTING DEATH Damon Barnes was standing in the stairwell of an apartment building in the 2800 block of Robinson Place in the early morning of March 18, 2001, when he was shot four times by D.C. police — once in the buttock, once in the lower back, once in the side, and once in the back of his thigh. He died five hours later. According to police, two officers had been called to the area around 3 a.m. to break up a large party at an apartment building. While at the scene, they heard gunshots from a nearby building and saw several people running from the area. As they approached the building, the officers noticed a young woman crouching against the wall of the building. As they entered, one of the officers saw a man pointing a gun at them, and that officer fired his weapon. The U.S. Attorney’s Office reviewed the shooting and declined to prosecute the officers, according to court papers. Linwood Barnes didn’t believe the cops’ version of the shooting. While his son had been in trouble with the police before, Barnes was not known to be violent, Mount says. Barnes’ criminal record in the District was limited to a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge that was dropped, a driving under the influence charge that he was acquitted of; and three other traffic matters. According to Maryland court records, Barnes picked up two charges in Prince George’s County; both were later dismissed. In 1991, Barnes was charged with distributing a noncontrolled dangerous substance; in 1995, he was charged with theft of less than $300. In an April 8 deposition, however, Robinson claims that Barnes was a drug dealer who gave some of his earnings to his parents. Mount calls the allegation “unfounded.” Linwood Barnes declines comment. For several years, Linwood, who works with troubled teen-agers and young adults at D.C.’s ARCH Training Center, had a strained relationship with his middle son, according to Mount and Robinson. Prior to 1999, Barnes rarely visited his parents, who live in Prince George’s County. In August 1999, Barnes nearly died when he was shot 15 times by two men in Southeast Washington. According to court papers, Barnes confronted a local street enforcer who he had heard was planning to rob him. Minutes later, the man, armed with a machine gun, and an accomplice brandishing a pistol fired at Barnes as he ran for cover outside an apartment building. That incident — along with the birth of DeJanay in October 2000 — brought the family closer together. “Towards the end, [Damon] would start to talk to his father more and started to go over more after he was, pretty much, shot the first time,” Robinson said in her deposition. Robinson declines comment. Linwood, who was a D.C. cop more than 25 years ago, waited until he received the autopsy results before looking for a lawyer, according to Mount. That autopsy showed traces of alcohol in Barnes’ blood, but no drugs. Linwood was steered to D.C.’s Bode & Grenier after reading an article in Legal Times about how Mount had settled a police shooting case with the city for $1 million, and separately learning that Peter Grenier was the lawyer who had won an enormous judgment against the District for a family whose son was killed while working as a police informant. Mount quickly filed a request for unsupervised probate in D.C. Superior Court so that they could then sue the city in the name of Damon Barnes’ estate in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Under D.C. law, when a person dies without a will — such as the case with Barnes — the person’s estate automatically flows to a spouse. If there’s no spouse, then any sons or daughters become the heir. If there are no offspring, then the parents would inherit any assets. The probate papers, filed in January 2002, list six people as interested parties — Barnes’ father, mother, two brothers, a sister, and DeJanay as Barnes’ daughter. The request noted that Linwood and Robinson jointly paid around $6,300 for Barnes’ funeral. It was signed by both Linwood and Robinson, as the legal guardian of DeJanay. Robinson also signed off on Linwood being personal representative for the estate. Three months later, Mount filed suit against the District and the two officers involved in the shooting death of Damon Barnes. The suit was filed under the name of Linwood Barnes as personal representative of the estate. The complaint makes no mention of Robinson or DeJanay. The entire case, however, was turned upside down last summer when Robinson hired her own set of lawyers — Lattimer and Donald Temple — and challenged the control of the estate. Robinson, according to her April 8 deposition, was upset that Linwood did not name her as co-personal representative of the estate. She claims she was not aware that the lawsuit had been filed and that she was duped into signing the probate papers after being told by Linwood that her signature was needed to get a lawsuit underway. Robinson also claims that she was never consulted about the hiring of Mount and Grenier. After Robinson talked to some clerks in Superior Court’s probate office, she became convinced that she needed to hire her own attorneys, according to her deposition. “From information I received from the probate office, they informed me that if anything was to come out of the trial that he would have all control of it, over any funds for DeJanay,” Robinson said. At that point, according to Mount, Linwood told him that there were some legitimate questions about whether Barnes could be the biological father of DeJanay. In particular, Linwood told his lawyer that after 1999, when Barnes was shot 17 times, a doctor said it was unlikely Barnes would ever be able to have children. Mount then searched for medical records on the 1999 shooting. According to a Washington Hospital Center medical report, one of the bullets “obliterated” Barnes’ right testicle, while the left testicle “was felt to be smaller than normal.” With that information, Linwood challenged the child’s paternal rights to the estate and requested a DNA test. The problem, however, is that there is no DNA sample from Barnes. Mount says the police were supposed to have taken one at the time of the 2001 police shooting, but that “blood patch” has not been located. The only test available is a “grandparentage” test, in which DNA samples would be collected from Linwood and his wife. Samples would also be collected from Robinson and DeJanay. According to a brochure from the DNA Diagnostics Center: “Our testing can provide a Probability of Grandparentage in the high 90 percent range, if the Child in question is a biological relative.” In January, Senior Judge Eugene Hamilton ordered the testing. Robinson’s lawyers objected. For one, they point to a provision of the D.C. Code that states that paternity may be established through genetic testing when it can affirm”at least a 99% probability that the putative father is the father of the child.” Lattimer also points out that Barnes’ name is listed as the father on DeJanay’s birth certificate and says that Barnes also signed a sworn “acknowledgement of paternity” form the day after DeJanay was born. D.C. law does not require a parent to be a biological relative in order to establish paternity. For the past four months, Lattimer refused to let his client be tested. On two occasions a testing date was set, but Robinson and DeJanay never appeared, Mount says. Robinson’s attorneys asked Hamilton to reconsider the testing. On May 21, Hamilton issued an order denying their request and noting that the acknowledgement of paternity submitted to the court did not contain all of the information required under law to prove paternity and did not include a page explaining the perjury penalties. Hamilton also wrote in bold: “The law in the District of Columbia is clear: expert reports that show statistical probability of the alleged parent’s paternity may be admissible into evidence.” Dr. Daniel Demers, director of the Fairfax Identity Laboratory in Northern Virginia, says grandparentage testing can determine paternity with a 99 percent or higher probability. But the results are determined on the assumption that the “grandparents” are the biological parents of the deceased. Temple told Hamilton at a May 28 hearing that without any DNA sample from Barnes, there is no way of proving that Linwood and his wife are Barnes’ biological parents. “There’s no proof the grandparents are the parents of the decedent,” Temple said. Lattimer, meanwhile, lashed out at Hamilton’s decision to order the test. “That’s all this is — a rape,” Lattimer screamed during the status hearing, “and that’s our perspective of this.” Hamilton remained calm throughout the exchange, but warned Lattimer not to test his patience.”I’ve spent enough time on this — and money,” Hamilton said. “Ultimately, it is this child who may bear the expense of this litigation.” Despite Lattimer’s protestations, Robinson says that both she and her daughter were tested on May 30 and that the lab should have results within 10 days. Meanwhile, the wrongful death/civil rights case in the federal court continues to move forward before U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer. In October, Robinson’s lawyers asked that the case be stayed pending the outcome in the probate matter. That motion was denied. In April, the District’s lawyers moved to have Mount and Grenier removed from the case, claiming there was a conflict of interest. They say the firm of Bode & Grenier hired an assistant corporation counsel who had previously worked on the police shooting case. Last month, Mount and Grenier responded by saying that the former city lawyer was excluded from all aspects of the case, including the right to any money that may be won from the litigation.

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