WASHINGTON, DC – An October 2020 police pursuit of a 20-year-old man operating a moped without a helmet on a sidewalk, who later died when he struck by a SUV during the pursuit, has resulted in two officers involved with the pursuit being charged.
One officer has been charged with second-degree murder along with conspiracy and obstruction of justice, and a DC Police lieutenant was charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
— FOX 5 DC (@fox5dc) September 24, 2021
In an October 23rd, 2020, incident we at Law Enforcement Today previously reported on, two DC Police officers are facing federal charges – one of whom is charged with second-degree murder – over the death of 20-year-old Karon Hylton-Brown.
According to the release from the Department of Justice, 37-year-old Officer Terence Sutton was charged with second-degree murder and federal charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice, whereas 53-year-old Lieutenant Andrew Zabavsky was charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Reports outlining the indictment recount the incident that led to Hylton-Brown’s death, which all stemmed from his refusal to pull over for two traffic violations: riding a moped on the sidewalk and not wearing a helmet while riding it.
Hylton-Brown was reportedly observed riding a Revel rental scooter – which carries a top speed of 30 mph – on the sidewalk along the 400 block of Kennedy Street. Officer Sutton and Lt. Zabavsky, both in separate police vehicles, attempted to stop Hylton-Brown and activated their lights and started the pursuit when Hylton-Brown refused to pull over.
Apparently, it is against DC Police policy to engage in a pursuit if the only reason for the stop is traffic-related.
An indictment was unsealed today charging two members of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) with offenses stemming from the Oct. 23, 2020, police vehicular pursuit in NW Washington that caused the death of Karon Hylton-Brown. Learn more at @USAO_DC: https://t.co/RArEJbH5ll pic.twitter.com/vLh0qVPXBb
— FBI Washington Field (@FBIWFO) September 24, 2021
For approximately three minutes, the indictment states that Officer Sutton pursued Hylton-Brown “through neighborhood streets with pedestrians and other vehicles present” and reached speeds as high as 45 mph, reportedly running 7 stop signs during the pursuit and driving the wrong direction through one-way streets.
As for Lt. Zabavsky, he was pursuing Hylton-Brown from a different direction in an attempt to cut him off.
The fatal crash occurred after Hylton-Brown turned down an alley that connects the 700 blocks of Jefferson and Kennedy streets, with Officer Sutton still in pursuit, which led to Hylton-Brown being struck by an oncoming SUV when he suddenly pulled into traffic on Kennedy Street through the alley.
Charging documents further allege that Officer Sutton and Lt. Zabavsky failed to take additional witness statements from the scene, outside of the driver of the SUV who was permitted to leave the scene 20 minutes later.
It is further alleged that both of the officers turned off their body cameras at the scene to speak privately, with Officer Sutton reportedly violating DC Police policy by leaving the scene thereafter in his squad car.
Hylton-Brown was rushed to an area hospital where he died two days later as a result of his sustained injuries in the collision.
The spirit of the allegations of the indictment frame that Officer Sutton’s actions during the pursuit “caused Mr. Hylton-Brown’s death by driving a police vehicle in conscious disregard for an extreme risk of death or serious bodily injury.”
— Stephanie Ramirez (@RamirezReports) September 24, 2021
As for the conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges that both officers are facing, prosecutors say that the two “conspired and combined to hide from MPD officials the circumstances of the traffic crash leading to Mr. Hylton-Brown’s death.”
Allegedly, Officer Sutton and Lt. Zabavsky told a superior that Officer Sutton did not pursue Hylton-Brown during the incident.
Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division, Wayne Jacobs, said the following about the indictment of both the officers:
“As alleged in the indictment, these sworn law enforcement officers showed a careless disregard for Mr. Hylton-Brown’s life and then conspired to obstruct the investigation of their actions. The FBI has an obligation to ensure that law enforcement officers do not abuse their positions of trust and authority to the detriment of the communities they serve.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips also commented on the indictments, saying the following:
“Police officers are sworn to uphold the law and ensure the safety of the community. 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.”
While the conspiracy and obstruction charges are pretty easy to understand on how they came about, as they stem from alleged false reporting to superiors during the investigation into the fatal crash, second-degree murder in this case might sound odd to some.
But it all boils down to how second-degree murder is classified within the federal justice system.
Second-degree murder can apply to deaths in three distinct circumstances when there isn’t premedication involved in a killing:
- Impulsive with malice aforethought (typically known as “heat of the moment” killings)
- Killing after an act that intended to cause serious bodily harm
- Depraved indifference to human life
The second-degree murder charge levied against Officer Sutton seems to be leaning on a depraved indifference to human life, as the Justice Department’s announcement of charges framed Officer Sutton’s driving during the pursuit as being “in conscious disregard for an extreme risk of death or serious bodily injury.”
If convicted, Officer Sutton could face up to 40 years for the second-degree murder charge. As for the other two charges he faces along with Lt. Zabavsky, conspiracy carries a maximum of 5 years, and the obstruction of justice charge carries a maximum of 20 years.
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As previously mentioned, we at Law Enforcement Today previously reported on this incident after news first broke.
Here’s out previous report from October of 2020.
WASHINGTON, DC – A 20-year-old man was recently taken off of life support following a traffic accident while riding a Revel moped reportedly while being pursued by police for operating the moped without a helmet.
Sources say that a motorist apparently uninvolved wound up striking the moped rider while police were pursuing him, which has since caused outrage toward police.
More on Karon Hylton's death from NBC Washington: https://t.co/8wJDWsresj. His family says police are responsible for his death. Police say he crashed the Revel scooter into another vehicle when they tried to stop him for not wearing a helmet and riding on the sidewalk.
— Mike Balsamo (@MikeBalsamo1) October 28, 2020
The deceased man was identified as Karon Hylton-Brown, who was allegedly spotted operating the Revel moped on October 23rd while not wearing a helmet.
Following Hylton-Brown being taken off of life support days after the accident, protests aimed at police turned violent with reportedly four police officers being injured on the evening of October 27th.
According to the logic of the protesters and family of the deceased, they’re attributing the blame of Hylton-Brown’s death solely on the fact police were trying to pull him over.
In regards to the #KaronHylton rally at the Fourth District Police Station, MPD confirms windows were broken, rocks & bricks were thrown at officers. 4 officers were injured (non-life-threatening injuries). 1 person was arrested. #MPD pic.twitter.com/6w4zaIn0nZ
— Allison Papson (@AllisonPapson) October 28, 2020
Karen Hylton, the deceased’s mother, is among those to have stoked the ire from community members towards police regarding her son’s death:
“The things that happened didn’t have to happen. You know, he was targeted. All this – we wouldn’t have to be out here. You know, if the guy would’ve just left my son alone, all this wouldn’t have happened.”
Officials from the Metropolitan Police Department aren’t denying that Hylton-Brown was targeted on the evening of October 23rd but are divorcing that phrasing from the connotation that Hylton-Brown was targeted for nefarious reasons.
According to police, officers noticed that Hylton-Brown was operating the moped on the sidewalk at approximately 10:10 p.m. on the 23rd within the 500 block of Kennedy Street NW without a helmet.
Keep in mind, the mopeds are regulated to 30 miles per hour according to Revel, so this was not some sort of high-speed chase.
— Jackie Bensen (@jackiebensen) October 27, 2020
Officers that were trying to get Hylton-Brown to pull over say that he instead cut through an alley and “collided” with a vehicle within the 700 block of Kennedy Street.
The officers that were on site performed life-saving measures on Hylton-Brown prior to EMS responders transferring him to a local hospital where he was later removed from life support days after the accident.
Incidents involving the Revel mopeds, which operate in several large cities across America, are not some recent phenomenon.
Specifically, in New York City, the shareable pay-per-use moped company became a center of controversy in 2020.
In a ten-day period, three riders of the mopeds sustained fatal injuries in New York City following various accidents.
Also, on September 29th, an 82-year-woman was hit and killed while crossing a crosswalk by a 23-year-old man riding a Revel Moped in New York City.
In a statement regarding this latest fatality in Washington, D.C., Revel CEO Frank Reig expressed condolences for the deceased’s family:
“Our sympathies are with Mr. Hylton’s family. As this incident is under investigation, we’re awaiting more details at this time.”
But despite the nuance associated with this matter, frustrations were seemingly directed at police in D.C., which resulted in protests escalating to instances of property damage and police officers being injured.
At this time, the extent of the injuries that befell officers during the protests on October 27th were described as non-life threatening.
However, reportedly windows were damaged at the MPD’s 4D station.
BREAKING: protestors gathered to protest death of Karon Hylton, who was in a fatal collision after police say they tried to stop him for not wearing helmet Sat. His mother was standing outside 4D, demanding to be let in when someone used trash can to smash windows @nbcwashington pic.twitter.com/p83q0tJqTu
— Jackie Bensen (@jackiebensen) October 27, 2020
One of the controversies surrounding this case is whether police were even allowed to pursue Hylton-Brown per department policy, namely because the MPD has a loosely defined no-chase policy relating to ATVs and dirt bikes which has been in effect since at least 2013 and hasn’t been changed since.
What becomes unclear is to whether this policy extends to mopeds or not.
In a statement released by Deputy Mayor of Public Safety and Justice Roger Mitchell, it was noted that authorities are working with the family to share with them any bodycam footage related to the incident:
“We are engaged directly with the next of kin about their ability to view the body-worn camera footage. We are coordinating with the Department of Behavioral Health to provide the family with the space and trauma-informed support they need to view the body-worn camera footage.”
From what is known about the case thus far, it appears to be an unfortunate accident that carried with it fatal repercussions.
It’s unclear if there’s going to be any criminal culpability waged in the case, be they the officers involved or the operator of the other vehicle.
But it would not be surprising to see if the no-chase policy gets further examined to see if policy violations did occur by police pursuing the moped operated by the deceased.
If said policy was violated, then that could certainly result in any officers involved in the chase being terminated.
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