WASHINGTON — Two DC Police officers have been indicted in the death of a 20-year-old who was killed in a crash following an attempted traffic stop and police chase.
Karon Hylton-Brown crashed a moped he was driving into a vehicle in the 700 block of Kennedy Street, Northwest on Oct. 23. Police said they initially tried to pull Hylton over for not wearing a helmet as he rode his moped on a sidewalk, a misdemeanor traffic crime. Police say Karon fled on the moped, and officers followed him in their cars.
In an indictment that was unsealed Friday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charged 37-year-old officer Terence Sutton with second-degree murder and federal charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Second degree murder, in this case, means killing with alleged reckless indifference to a high-risk situation and carries a max sentence of life in prison.
Lieutenant Andrew Zabavsky, 53, who was Sutton's supervisor, was also charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Under U.S. Code, conspiracy means to agree to commit some unlawful act. In this case, the indictment alleges the officers conspired to obstruct the investigation. That has a maximum sentence of 5 years.
Obstruction of justice indicates that there was a delay or prevention of communication of important information to law enforcement. That charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Sutton had more than ten years of experience on the police force, while Lt. Zabavsky had 18.
The indictment alleges that Sutton caused Hylton-Brown's death by"driving a police vehicle in conscious disregard for an extreme risk of death or serious bodily injury to Hylton-Brown."
It details that Sutton allegedly pursued Hylton-Brown through neighborhood streets with pedestrians and other vehicles present while driving more than double the speed limit, going the wrong way on one-way streets and barreling through multiple stop signs. At the outset, Lt. Zabavsky joined the pursuit, it says.
The indictment continues to allege that Lt. Zabavsky and Sutton conspired to hide from MPD officials the circumstances of the traffic collision leading to Hylton-Brown's death, to prevent an internal investigation of the incident and referral of the matter to federal authorities for a criminal civil rights investigation. It specifies that Sutton and Lt. Zabavsky even allegedly deactivated their MPD-issued body-worn cameras after the incident was over and proceeded to discuss the event privately, then "provided a misleading account of the incident to the Watch Commander (the senior-most official in charge) . . . [ommitting] any mention of Hylton-Brown's serious injuries."
It also alleges that Sutton drove his MPD vehicle directly over physical evidence from Hylton-Brown's moped after the incident had ended.
Lawyers for the officers argued the Hylton Brown was a known member of the Kennedy Street crew, which allegedly operates an open-air drug market, and that Hylton-Brown had been stopped twice before as a juvenile with a handgun. They argued that police followed him because they believed he was armed and coming to take revenge after an argument on the street earlier in the day.
An assistant U.S. Attorney responded that it's the officers who are on trial for murder, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice, not Hylton Brown.
The judge has ordered Sutton to be detained on home monitoring pending trial. Lt. Zabavsky will be under high-intensity supervision. Both were told to give up their guns and avoid contact with any of the other police officers who may be witnesses at their trial.
"The District of Columbia Municipal Regulations afford authorized emergency vehicles, including police vehicles, certain privileges not afforded to ordinary citizens," the indictment reads. "Those privileges, however, do not relieve police officers 'from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor shall these provisions protect the driver from the consequences of his reckless disregard for the safety of others.'"
Sutton and Zabavsky had their first hearing Friday afternoon before Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui.
“Police officers are sworn to uphold the law and ensure the safety of the community," said Acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips in a statement. "The vast majority of officers execute their duties in an exemplary manner, and we are grateful for their dedicated service. But when a select few violate their oath by engaging in criminal conduct, they cannot do so with impunity and must be held accountable. This indictment seeks to do just that.”
In a Friday press conference, MPD's Chief Robert Contee said that the department respects and supports the investigation and will conduct their own after it's finished.
Contee also spoke to the other men and women involved in the department.
SEE: The full indictment is below
RELATED: Internal documents show MPD officers involved in Karon Hylton's death may have violated policy
Following the incident, protesters and police clashed for days over the death of the 20-year-old father.
During a news conference several days after Karon's death, D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham could not say why officers were attempting to initiate a traffic stop. Newsham said if the incident involving Hylton were merely a traffic issue, the officers should not have chased, per MPD's pursuit policy.
“If you make a determination that this person who is fleeing, and you don’t have something serious in nature, you need to discontinue," Newsham said. "If you go past that point it becomes an unauthorized pursuit."
Mayor Muriel Bowser added that D.C. Police officers were following the scooter that Hylton was riding, despite the policies against chasing vehicles.
"We have very clear policies about no chasing. It should be obvious by now. Why? Because chases can be dangerous," Bowser said during the news conference.
Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George has been calling on the U.S. Attorney's Office to bring justice to Karon Hylton's death and hold the officers involved accountable for months. The officers involved in Karon's death were placed on paid administrative leave pending a decision from the U.S. Attorney's Office, George said.
"Our community is hurting, but we are not deterred," George said. "What message are we sending when our own government doesn't care about black lives enough? There has to be a change and that change needs to happen now."
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