Police Display Skepticism in Videotaped Confession by Islan Nettles’ Accused Killer

Delores Nettles in front of 1 Police Plaza in January 2014 demanding action on the killing of her daughter, Islan. | GAY CITY NEWS

Delores Nettles in front of 1 Police Plaza in January 2014 demanding action on the killing of her daughter, Islan. | GAY CITY NEWS

In what may be a further complication in the effort to prosecute James Dixon for striking the blows that led to Islan Nettles’ death, Dixon’s videotaped statement shows that police and prosecutors doubted that he was the man who struck the 21-year-old transgender woman on a Harlem street in 2013.

“What you’re saying doesn’t make sense,” Thaddeus Hall, a detective in the Manhattan North Homicide squad, can be heard saying to Dixon in the statement, which was played in Manhattan Supreme Court on April 1. “This doesn’t make sense.”

Allegedly, Dixon struck Nettles twice in the early morning hours on August 17, 2013. She died from her injuries on August 22, which may have been caused by her hitting her head on the sidewalk after Dixon allegedly knocked her down and hit her again. Dixon, 25, is charged with first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, and first-degree assault. None is charged as a hate crime.

Detectives pressed James Dixon, second man arrested for fatal 2013 attack, on his credibility

Police initially arrested Paris Wilson, who was 20 in 2013, in the attack. He was charged with misdemeanor assault and harassment. In 2013, police had one witness who said she saw Wilson “strike ___ about the head with a closed fist, causing ___to fall to the ground. Once on the ground, the defendant continued to strike ___ in the face,” according to the 2013 criminal complaint that was filed against Wilson. Dixon’s statement came after he surrendered to police with Simone Gordon, Wilson’s mother.

Earlier in the statement, Hall asked Dixon, “Did anybody ask you to come do this?,” and Dixon answered, “No.” Then Hall asked, “Offer you any money?,” and Dixon answered, “No.” The skeptical questioning by police and prosecutors grew so intense that Dixon said, “I’m not making this up.”

Dixon told police in one statement that he only remembered punching Nettles. When Hall asked him, “Who filled in all the blanks for you as to what happened?” Dixon replied, “People from the neighborhood.”

Dixon’s statement is contradictory. In one part, his friends were with him when he hit Nettles, in another part, they had already run off. In one part, he said nothing after striking Nettles, in another, he said to Nettles’ female friend, “Do you want some?” after hitting Nettles.

Dixon said there was just one woman with Nettles. Prosecutors will call two women who were with Nettles the night of the attack. While both gave written statements to police, prosecutors said on March 31 that they have lost one of those written statements.

Questioned by Laura Millendorf, an assistant district attorney who is prosecuting the case with Nicholas Viorst, also an assistant district attorney, Dixon denied that a woman wearing a spaghetti-strap dress was there, then later said that a heavyset woman wearing a spaghetti-strap dress was there.

Police and prosecutors seized on those contradictions to challenge Dixon on the claims he was making in the videotaped statement.

In multiple statements, Dixon has said that he had been drinking with friends earlier in the evening. They left to go to a party and met Wilson and other friends on the street, who told them the party was canceled. It was at this point that they encountered Nettles.

In one statement, the 25-year-old said he struck Nettles because she laughed at him when he tripped. In another statement, he struck her after he began flirting with her and his friends heckled him, saying Nettles was a guy. Two or three days earlier, he was approached by a transgender woman who wanted to buy some marijuana and he was angered by being “fooled” again, he said.

“A couple of days before, I got fooled by a transgender and that might have led to this, blind fury,” Dixon said in a statement that was read in court on March 31.

Following the two-day hearing on the admissibility of the statements, the judge in the case, Daniel Conviser, ruled on April 1 that all of Dixon’s statements could be used in his trial, which is slated to begin jury selection on April 4.

Following the hearing on April 1, Delores Nettles, Islan’s mother, said she was not troubled by the skepticism on the part of police and prosecutors that was evident in the video. What she saw was a consistent story on Dixon’s part –– he was embarrassed by the initial encounter with a transgender woman and flew into a rage at the second encounter.

The Nettles killing has been the subject of repeated protests and political pressure being applied to police and the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Police eventually dropped the charges against Wilson. Dixon was not arrested and indicted until March 2015. The Nettles family and friends as well as activists have regularly attended the pre-trial hearings.

At one point in 2014, activists were angered because they learned that the district attorney had lost track of Wilson. At a November 2013 hearing in Wilson’s case, Viorst said his office was not prepared to move forward on the case, adding that the district attorney’s office was “aggressively investigating” the crime and could bring homicide charges against “Mr. Wilson or someone else” in the future.