**FILE** Metropolitan Police Department vehicles (Courtesy photo)
**FILE** Metropolitan Police Department vehicles (Courtesy photo)

The jurors who convicted Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers Terence Sutton and Lt. Andrew Zabavsky on Dec. 21 for the death of Karon Hylton-Brown watched footage of the duo’s illegal pursuit of the 20-year-old in October 2020 during a trial that spanned several weeks. 

For David Shurtz, the Hylton family attorney, the footage, along with other evidence, highlighted a “pattern of practice” in which District police officers, for years, often used their vehicles as battering rams while chasing Black male bikers. 

Shurtz said that such interactions led not only to Hylton-Brown’s death, but that of Jeffrey Price on Division Avenue and Fitch Place in Northeast 2018 and Arnell Robinson near 5th Street and O Street in Northwest nine years prior.  

Like Sutton and Zabavsky, officers in the other cases cleared the crime scene of evidence and witnesses long before the arrival of the MPD Major Crash Unit.

When Shurtz represented Robinson’s family in 2015, he presented 220 affidavits that included the statements of those who had either been knocked off their bikes by police officers during pursuits or had witnessed such interactions. 

Judge James E. Boasberg allowed only 22 of those affidavits into evidence. The number of affidavits collected has since grown to 300, what Shurtz calls further indication of a pattern. 

Another important aspect of the case, as explained by Shurtz, involved Sutton and Zabavsky’s disregard for MPD’s “no pursuit” laws that forbade Sutton, who was driving an unmarked vehicle, from chasing Hylton-Brown while Zabavksy, in a marked police vehicle, was in the vicinity. 

Shurtz said that not even testimony from MPD Assistant Chief of Internal Affairs Wilfredo Manlapaz in support of Sutton could compel the jury to overlook these factors. 

“The jury is looking at Sutton chasing this guy on his tail [in an unmarked vehicle] and the supervisor [Zabavsky] following straight behind him,” Shurtz said. 

“Then the assistant chief of internal affairs said Sutton is a good cop, but the jury didn’t listen to him. They saw the facts for what they were because the FBI put the videos from security cameras in one continuous stream,” Shurtz continued. 

“When the U.S. Department of Justice decided to do this investigation, they did a thorough job.” 

Sutton, 38, was found guilty of second-degree murder, conspiracy to obstruct and obstruction of justice. 

Zabavsky, 54, was found guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. It is the first time in recent memory that District police officers have been convicted for the murder of a civilian. 

Hylton-Brown’s Oct. 23, 2020, death sparked days of protests in front of MPD’s 4th District headquarters in Northwest, and later the passage of legislation strengthening MPD’s “no chase” policy.  It also highlighted the constant police harassment of Black men in the Brightwood Park community, which also became a topic of discussion in the aftermath of Kevin Hargraves-Shird’s police-involved death last July. 

During the reading of the verdict, U.S. Marshals arrested Karen Hylton, Hylton-Brown’s mother, allegedly in response to comments she made in the courtroom. She was released the next day with no charges pending. 

Hylton, via grassroots advocates, declined to comment on the verdict. 

On Dec. 22, Michael Hannon, Sutton’s attorney, sent a letter to MPD’s 4th District headquarters in Northwest alerting them to his pending Rule 20 motion that, if approved, would allow the judge to throw out the jury’s verdict and acquit Sutton. 

Despite the historic significance of Sutton and Zabavsky’s convictions, Makia Green, a local organizer who’s stood on the frontlines during the protests around Hylton-Brown’s death, called this moment bittersweet. She cited Hylton-Brown’s death and the arrest of his mother as primary reasons. 

Green still heralded the conviction as a victory in a city where police officers rarely answer to the law for their involvement in civilian deaths. 

“We saw the recording. We saw what happened and know this officer had a history of harassing Karon and other Black men in that neighborhood,” said Green, co-founder of Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, a Black-led defense hub dedicated to the abolition of modern-day policing. 

“During the uprising, I was shot with rubber bullets and we were brutalized for asking for justice and demanding that Officer Sutton be held accountable,” Green added. 

“This has been a long fight, two years in the making. Karon’s mother, his family, his daughter, and the activists and organizations have been a part of this fight. We haven’t given up.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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