D.C. auditor reviewing fatal shootings by District police

Kay’s shooting is still under review by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which has declined to prosecute in the other cases. Families of most of the men killed have objected to the police accounts, including relatives of Kay, who died when an officer fired at the […]

Kay’s shooting is still under review by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which has declined to prosecute in the other cases.

Families of most of the men killed have objected to the police accounts, including relatives of Kay, who died when an officer fired at the same time or nearly the same time that the 18-year-old was throwing a gun. His aunt has maintained that Kay was unarmed when the officer pulled the trigger, and demonstrators have called for the officer and police chief to be fired.

The review is being led by Michael R. Bromwich, who served as the court-appointed monitor overseeing a D.C. police memorandum of agreement with the Justice Department in 2001 after officers had shot and killed more people per capita than in any other large city.

That memorandum, aimed at reducing police use of force, expired in 2008. In 2016, the Bromwich Group, commissioned by the D.C. auditor, conducted a follow-up inquiry and concluded that the number of incidents of excessive force and shootings by officers remained low. “There is no evidence that the [police department] has an excessive use-of-force problem,” Bromwich said at the time.

In a five-year span in the late 1990s, D.C. police fatally shot 57 people, with 640 shooting incidents. From 2015 through 2019, D.C. police fatally shot 11 people, with 114 shooting incidents. This year, police have shot four people, Kay being the lone fatality.

D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson said she initially hoped to have a report from Bromwich in October, but it may take longer because of the shooting of Kay.

In a statement, Patterson said Bromwich will examine the incidents in the context of the memorandum of agreement, which prompted vast changes in rules on using force and how investigations are conducted.

“It is our hope that this review will contribute constructively to the national and District conversations on policing overall and police use of force,” her statement said.

Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against officers in the deaths of Carter, Young, Price and Alston, and Kay’s shooting remains under review. The police department, which conducts separate internal investigations, found that the officers involved in the shootings of Young and Alston acted within department policy. The officer involved in Price’s death was briefly suspended after the crash was ruled “preventable” because the officer failed to stop for a stop sign before entering the intersection.

The internal police review involving the death of Kay has not been resolved. D.C. police did not respond to questions on the status of the inquiry in Carter’s case. Police also did not immediately comment on the auditor’s investigation.

The chairman of the D.C. police union, Gregg Pemberton, stressed that most of the cases being reviewed have already undergone scrutiny by federal prosecutors and the police department’s Use of Force Review Board.

“It’s almost like city officials are disappointed that the dispositions have not resulted in a finding of police misconduct,” Pemberton said Tuesday. “Unfortunately for the anti-police, pro-crime advocates, our members are well-trained and have acted appropriately in these situations.”

He said he is confident that Patterson and Bromwich will reach the same conclusion they did in 2016.

The auditor’s review began in July, one month before the first meeting of the D.C. Council’s Police Reform Commission, made up of 20 people trying to reimagine the future of policing in the District, following violent and sometimes deadly encounters involving law enforcement in cities across the country.

At an emergency meeting two days after Kay was killed, members of the newly formed commission demanded police release body-camera video from all of the officers at the scene and called for an independent investigation into the shooting. The department, complying with a new D.C. Council law, made public only the video from the officer who fired.

Members said they wanted to see additional perspectives of the shooting, and city leaders, who attended the meeting, agreed to seek advice from legal counsel and perhaps let the commission view additional videos in private.

But at the commission’s meeting Monday, members learned that questions about additional videos and others regarding the shooting would be delivered to Patterson, whose office would make the inquiries of police.

That frustrated some members. Mignon Smith, a former school principal, said the commission was promised an answer, only to learn now that the questions have been “turned over to the hands of someone else.”

The group’s co-chair, Christy Lopez, director of the Innovative Policing Program at Georgetown Law who led Justice Department investigations of police abuse in Ferguson, Mo., said the commission had requested an independent review into Kay’s death, and that is what the D.C. auditor is doing.

Lopez said the commission is trying to look into broader issues of police conduct and practices, alternatives to sending officers to certain calls, whether police should be in schools, restorative justice issues and discipline.

The alternative, Lopez said, is “we spend all of our time on this one very important incident, and we don’t get at the root of the underlying issues that we all want to get to, to prevent similar incidents.”

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