As of this month, the four officers involved in the vehicle pursuit that led to Karon Hylton-Brown’s death haven’t been interviewed by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), nor has criminal liability been determined by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
However, as MPD Chief Peter Newsham suggested in a virtual meeting with members of the Brightwood community, there might be some cause for concern about what transpired in the minutes before Hylton-Brown’s moped collided with a moving van along Kennedy Street on Oct. 23.
“If there was a pursuit, and during the pursuit [officers] didn’t activate [their body-worn cameras], that’s a violation of MPD policy,” Newham told community members during an Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 4D meeting less than week after friends and family said their final goodbyes to Hylton-Brown.
Body-camera footage released to the public last month shows officers in an MPD cruiser driving behind Hylton-Brown for several minutes before his fateful crash on the 700 block of Kennedy Street in Northwest. Three days later, he died from his injuries, under what some friends have described as questionable circumstances.
MPD later attributed their pursuit of Hylton-Brown to his violation of a District policy that requires operators of mopeds to wear a helmet. In the video, officers could be heard referring to Hylton-Brown by name. However, the portion of the footage that includes the vehicular pursuit has been muted, what Newsham said may suggest officers’ deliberate deactivation of audio that Friday evening.
“The way that we address vehicular pursuits is that it’s a serious offense,” Newsham told community members Wednesday. “Actually, a more serious offense would be purposely failing to turn on your body-worn camera. We’ll look at our investigation and see if the officers were at fault. If they [had] violated policy, there will be consequences, like suspension all the way to removal from the police department.”
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Since Hylton-Brown’s death, MPD Officer Terrence Sutton and three other officers involved in the pursuit of Hylton-Brown have been suspended. Sutton, who maintained a presence along the Kennedy Street corridor, has also been implicated in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit for his alleged sexual abuse of a District man during a search.
Hylton-Brown, 20, left behind a baby daughter and legions of family and friends who, shortly after his death, took to the streets in demand of accountability from MPD. Protests that erupted on the steps of MPD’s Fourth District Police Station, and long portions of Georgia Avenue and Kennedy Street, have resulted in some damage to the building and police vehicles, assaults of protesters, and several arrests, including that of Charles Brown, the late Hylton-Brown’s father.
Brown recently secured the legal services of attorney Malik Shabazz, who, along with the late Hylton-Brown’s family, the Fred Hampton Gun Club, and the New Black Panther Party, publicly revealed a course of action. Shabazz, a well-known activist, said his organization Black Lawyers for Justice has launched an investigation into the circumstances of Hylton-Brown’s death, including Sutton’s role and professional background.
“There are strict MPD rules that deal with police chases and how they should be conducted in urban areas only if there’s a felony being committed or there’s probable cause that felony has been or is about to be committed,” Shabazz told The Informer. “Because Karon wasn’t found with any drugs or a gun, we consider such a chase and [MPD Fourth District’s] harassment of others on Kennedy Street part of the serious policing problem in the District. There will be further dissatisfaction and unrest until a change is made.”
Hylton-Brown’s death followed that of Deon Kay, an 18-year-old from Southeast who was shot and killed by MPD officers a month prior. That situation spurred protests at MPD’s Seventh District Police Station on Alabama Avenue and triggered the immediate release of body-camera footage, MPD’s first since the D.C. Council’s passage of emergency legislation mandating the process.
Throughout much of the summer, protests at Black Lives Matter Plaza and across the United States have shed light on the issue of aggressive policing and the tense relationship between MPD officers and young people in the communities dealing with crime. Meanwhile, the District surpassed 500 incidences of gun violence, a situation that has intensified calls for increased police presence along Kennedy Street and other affected neighborhoods.
It has also compelled Mayor Muriel Bowser, Newsham and some D.C. residents to reject calls to defund the police.
During Newham’s meeting with ANC 4D’s community members, the conversation about Hylton-Brown often pivoted to Brightwood residents’ concerns about shootings along Kennedy Street and surrounding areas. In response to ANC 4D Chairperson Renee Bowser’s question about deploying violence interrupters to Kennedy Street, Newham alluded to efforts by the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement to increase their presence along the corridor.
In the aftermath of Hylton-Brown’s death, Bowser recounted thinking about the need for more investments, not in police, but in social services and housing that can address the underlying causes of crime. Weeks before the Nov. 18 ANC meeting, she told The Informer about moments where she had to counter constituents’ demands for aggressive policing tactics.
Hylton-Brown’s death has presented a similar opportunity.
“I don’t think any officer should’ve been chasing Karon Hylton-Brown,” Chairperson Bowser told The Informer. “That’s not something you dedicate police time and effort toward. There has to be more to do. I felt like that even if there was a violation of not having a helmet, you wouldn’t risk someone’s life doing a chase.”