By Olivia Anderson and Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
Content warning: This story contains graphic details related to sexual assault.
The bail bondsman in the Karla Dominguez murder case has been charged with criminal contempt of court and faces trial in January in the Alexandria Circuit Court. Man Nguyen’s car and gun were used by Ibrahim Bouaichi to kill Karla Dominguez last summer while Bouaichi was out on bond for allegedly raping Dominguez.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter filed a motion to issue a capias warrant in October 2020 and will investigate the case during the trial, which is set to take place on Jan. 25, 2022. If Nguyen is convicted, the prosecution can push for whatever sentence it deems fit. Porter declined to comment due to the active nature of the case.
While there are various kinds of contempt of court charges in which courts and judges may punish summarily for contempt, the type Nguyen faces is defined by the Code of Virginia as “exhibiting disobedience or resistance of an officer of the court, juror, witness or other person to any lawful process, judgment, decree or order of the court.”
In Nguyen’s case, this refers to his alleged violation of the recognizance he signed acknowledging that Bouaichi was to stay at his parents’ home in Greenbelt, Maryland while awaiting trial.
Following Dominguez’ accusation that Bouaichi raped her and his subsequent indictment, now-retired Circuit Court Judge Nolan B. Dawkins released Bouaichi on a $25,000 bond that Nguyen posted and signed off on shortly after. Dawkins did not require that Bouaichi wear a GPS ankle bracelet.
What’s clear is that Nguyen, who had known Bouaichi for more than a decade, signed the terms of the recognizance and then proceeded to employ Bouaichi at his mall kiosk and allow Bouaichi to stay at his house, where he had left his gun, and dog-sit while Nguyen went on vacation.
What’s not as clear is whether the charge will hold up in a courtroom, as Nguyen maintains that he did not violate the terms of the bond willfully, even though the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s motion asserts that he did.
What’s opaque is how the arguably mangled criminal justice system that was supposed to protect Dominguez seemed to help facilitate her eventual demise, and how similar situations can be prevented from occurring in the future.
What actually happened?
The Alexandria Times first reported last year that Bouaichi allegedly killed Dominguez on July 29, 2020 while out on bond. Dominguez had accused Bouaichi of raping her in her home the year prior and he was subsequently indicted by a grand jury in January 2020 on five felonious charges: rape, sodomy, strangulation, malicious wounding and abduction with the intent to defile.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Bouaichi’s trial date was delayed and his lawyers requested he be released on bond. A 22-minute hearing resulted in his release. Several months later he drove to Dominguez’ house with Nguyen’s car and shot and killed her with Nguyen’s gun. Bouaichi later shot himself while being pursued by police, again using Nguyen’s car and gun, and died days later.
Since those original articles, the Times learned through a resident-submitted FOIA request that not only did Nguyen own the vehicle and gun Bouaichi used to murder Dominguez, the two had known each other off and on for about 10 years.
They met through a mutual friend who owned a gas station and considered one another acquaintances that would occasionally go out together, according to Nguyen.
“He seemed mentally stable and everything,” Nguyen told the Times in an interview. “He was a little annoying in the past. He acted a little childish here and there, but I never saw him as a violent criminal who could kill somebody, you know?”
When Bouaichi’s sister reached out to Nguyen to bail him out last year, Nguyen agreed. On April 9, 2020, the court granted the bond with three specific provisions: that Bouaichi post a secured bond in the aggregate amount of $25,000; that Bouaichi remain at his parents’ home in Greenbelt, Maryland except to meet with his lawyer or pretrial services; and that Bouaichi have no contact with Dominguez.
Nguyen posted bail and signed a recognizance outlining the specific terms of the release but said that because of the large number of people he bails out on a daily basis, the specific conditions of Bouaichi’s bond “slipped [his] mind.”
Bouaichi reached out to Nguyen a couple months after his release, asking to meet up. Once again, Nguyen agreed, and the two spent time at the dog park, drinking at restaurants and working together at Nguyen’s kiosk.
According to Nguyen, it didn’t cross his mind once that Bouaichi might be violating the terms of his bond. Dawkins had not ordered an electronic ankle bracelet for Bouaichi to ensure his house arrest; Nguyen asserted that if he had seen one, he would not have hired or even spent time with Bouaichi.
“What judge gives out house arrest just based on trust with no ankle bracelet?” Nguyen said. “If the judge gave an ankle bracelet and he was not doing what he was supposed to do, then [Dominguez] would be alive today.”
Nguyen said that during their conversations Bouaichi told him the details of the case, accusing Dominguez, who was from Venezuela and did not have legal status in the United States, of lying about the rape allegation in order to avoid deportation.
Because the two were friends and he had no reason to think otherwise, Nguyen said he believed Bouaichi’s story. He speculated that Dominguez’ allegations did not constitute “real rape” because the two previously dated and had sex many times before.
“Maybe they were drunk; maybe he wanted to have sex with her and she was like, ‘Get off me’ in a fight or whatever,” Nguyen said. “She might have said ‘No,’ but was it a real rape – like he pinned her back and against her will? I didn’t think so because I know him.”
During the April 2020 bond hearing, Bouaichi’s attorneys argued that on the night of the alleged rape Dominguez consumed alcohol and “could not even remember the quantity of alcohol.” However, prosecutors pointed to forensic evidence in the form of a SANE report that revealed a genital injury on Dominguez, and the fact that detectives found an injury consistent with a bite mark on Bouaichi’s arm and other evidence of a fight at her apartment.
One month after Nguyen posted his Virginia bond, Bouaichi was arrested in Maryland and charged with several traffic offenses, including reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol.
Although Nguyen admitted to the Times that Bouaichi told him this, he said that he continued to employ him at the kiosk because he still didn’t know Bouaichi was ordered to stay with his parents.
“I didn’t think nothing of it. For me, it didn’t matter to me either way … He never told me his condition. He didn’t say, ‘Hey, I’m not supposed to leave the house but don’t tell nobody,’” Nguyen said. “ … I wish he did tell me that because if I did continue to hang out with him and take him out of the house, then of course I would [be violating] the judge’s order. But he never told me that, so I’m thinking that he’s out as a free man on bond, that he can do what he wants as long as he doesn’t get in trouble.”
Nguyen told the Times that Bouaichi knew he was a gun owner because of his work as a bail bondsman and social media posts of himself at the gun range, but that Bouaichi did not know where he kept the guns. He claimed he never would have asked Bouaichi to watch his home and dogs while away at the beach last July if he was aware that in doing so he was breaking the law.
Essentially, Nguyen’s version of events includes forgetting the terms of Bouaichi’s bond; not sensing the level of violence Bouaichi would later prove he was capable of; offering “benefit of the doubt” that Dominguez was lying about the rape; and experiencing complete stupefaction upon returning home from his vacation to find his car and gun missing.
“Yeah, I did give him the benefit of the doubt. … I never saw him to be violent or do any harm towards her,” Nguyen said. “When he actually stole my gun and my car and did the act, I was very surprised. I was appalled and in shock.”
But that’s not how Alexandria Magistrate Elizabeth Fuller remembers it.
According to Fuller, whose office issues arrest warrants and holds bail hearings, Nguyen came to work in the days following the murder nearly boasting and joking about the fact that the gun and car belonged to him and that Bouaichi had stayed at his home.
“He was telling this officer about what happened and almost bragging about it. The officer said to me, ‘You will never believe what he just said to me,’” Fuller said. “So I said, ‘I’ve got to do something about it.’”
Bouaichi shot himself using Nguyen’s gun on Aug. 5, 2020, while being chased by police, and died three days later. On Aug. 6, the day after Bouaichi’s self-inflicted mortal wound, Fuller filed a complaint with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services that Nguyen had violated several statutes and regulations of his licensure as a bail bondsman.
DCJS then opened an investigation where regulatory investigator KerriAnne Cooper talked to Nguyen. An Informal Fact Finding Conference took place in September 2020, resulting in the revocation of Nguyen’s bail bondsman license.
“… [Nguyen’s] continued operations would constitute a potentially life-threatening situation, or result in personal injury or loss to the public or to a consumer, or that may result in imminent harm, personal injury or loss,” Terry Frye, the presiding hearing officer at the IFFC, said during his testimony. “Clearly, the deaths of two individuals, including the alleged victim of a previous serious crime, constitute an injury or loss to the public.”
Frye did not provide comment in time for the Times’ publication, and DCJS declined an interview, stating that the department does not offer comments on investigative cases.
Fuller said that Dominguez’ murder was likely the product of a COVID-19-induced “perfect storm.”
“I would like to say that under normal circumstances he would not have been released. The law does state that there are some crimes for which no bond can secure the safety of the public or the victim,” Fuller said. “I believe that in [this situation], that was the case.”
According to Fuller, her decision to file a complaint was categorical.
“Someone had to do something,” Fuller said. “We were just horrified seeing this guy work and still continuing to make money after we knew he was the one who had bonded him out. See, that’s the thing: We knew [Nguyen] was the one who bonded him out, which in and of itself was bad enough because he didn’t adhere to the bond conditions.”
What does it all mean?
There are two ways in which one can be charged with contempt of court in Virginia: directly and indirectly. Direct charges apply to those who defy the court’s orders while in court, whereas indirect charges apply to disobedience that occurred beyond the courtroom.
Nguyen is facing an indirect criminal contempt of court charge for his role in helping Bouaichi violate the terms of his bond, because Nguyen was outside the physical presence of court at the time of violation.
For contempt of court charges that appear in district court, Virginia law states that a judge cannot issue a fine higher than $250 or sentence jail time longer than 10 days. But because Nguyen faces a misdemeanor offense in Alexandria Circuit Court, the criminal charge is considered more serious and therefore allows for a potentially harsher sentence.
According to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s motion, Nguyen’s actions “constituted the knowing and willful violation of several of the provisions contained in the court order and recognizance. Therefore, the court should issue a capias charging the defendant with such contempt.”
The question, then, becomes: Will the prosecution be able to prove that Nguyen “willfully” violated the court order?
Nguyen doesn’t think so, since he claims he was unaware of Bouaichi’s bond terms.
“I should be able to beat the charge because [with contempt of court] you gotta purposefully, willfully, intentionally disobey the judge’s order. I didn’t willfully, intentionally do that,” Nguyen said.
Pat Woodward, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, offered a different take.
“I think [criminal contempt of court] is the appropriate filing,” Woodward told the Times in an interview. “The bondsman is pledging to the court that someone return to court. … The specific terms of this contract seem to obligate the bondsman to ensure the defendant’s compliance with pretrial release conditions.”
But Woodward also highlighted the multi-jurisdictional difficulties this particular situation poses. For instance, Nguyen’s residence is located in Bowie, Maryland, so the Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney has no jurisdiction over Nguyen providing Bouaichi with access to the Glock semi-automatic pistol he used to kill Dominguez.
Additionally, the fact that Bouaichi was arrested and released on bond in Maryland might have gotten lost in the jurisdictional shuffle, which underscores the importance of pretrial counsel.
“It gets tricky when you [get] folks who are released in other jurisdictions. In this case, you would’ve had a pretrial services officer in Virginia assigned to the case, and [Bouaichi] should have been in regular communication with his pretrial services officer,” Woodward said.
The ongoing question of how, and if, Bouaichi communicated with his pretrial services officer continues to hang in the air.
Nguyen, perhaps unsurprisingly, argued that the blame for the lack of enforcement and Dominguez’ eventual murder lies with whoever Bouaichi’s pretrial services officer was.
“At the end of the day, his pretrial [services officer] dropped the ball, and that girl would be alive today if they followed the pretrial and he would be in jail for violating the conditions for being arrested,” Nguyen said. “If they want to charge someone, charge the pretrial officer with whatever the charge is for not doing their job.”
Fuller, while deeply in support of Nguyen’s licensure removal, partially echoed this sentiment.
“I do not know why [Maryland officials] didn’t know he was out on bond; it’s like living a bad lifetime movie,” Fuller said. “ … “Nobody responsible, really, is being held responsible. [Bouaichi] is dead; the judge is retired. How did everybody in this whole process drop the ball?”
At the time of the case, pretrial services fell under the purview of the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office. As of Jan. 1, 2021, it is handled by Alexandria Criminal Justice Services.
In an emailed statement provided to the Times, Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne noted that the city accepted a grant from DCJS 25 years ago to create a pretrial and local probation program for which the Sheriff’s Office would serve as the “administrative and fiscal agent.”
“As a courtesy to the city, my staff provided additional resources to this program for which we received no additional compensation. Budget reductions took a toll on my operations, and it became necessary to rescind the agreement in order to free up resources,” Lawhorne wrote in the statement.
“Individuals are assigned to the pretrial program by a magistrate or judge and are monitored in accordance with DCJS policies and state law,” Lawhorne continued in his statement. “On any given day, there are hundreds of individuals in the program. The most effective way to monitor their movement is with a GPS monitor. A judge has to order GPS monitoring for anyone in a pre-trial status.”
Even if the prosecution wins and Nguyen is convicted of criminal contempt of court, how much of a difference would it make? Or is Nguyen’s involvement part of a larger, systemic issue?
In Fuller’s eyes, a victory for the prosecution in Nguyen’s case would be a small consolation for the fact that Dominguez is gone.
“It doesn’t bring her back,” Fuller said. “There are horrible injustices that happen all the time, every day. … I can deal with the day-to-day crime because that’s the state of the fallen world. But why I can’t reconcile this is because she didn’t need to be dead. She had already experienced unimaginable trauma and abuse, and she didn’t need to be dead on top of it.”
“There’s no justice in this. It was something that was entirely preventable if anybody in the process had been doing their job effectively,” Fuller added. “It’s just such a string of tragic consequences. Every step along the way, the system completely failed this woman.”