D.C. Police 'Acted Recklessly' In Fatal Shooting Of Deon Kay, Report Finds The report says the officer who shot Kay was justified in his use of force at the time, but that MPD failed to de-escalate the situation.
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D.C. Police 'Acted Recklessly' In Fatal Shooting Of Deon Kay, Report Finds

A relative shows an image of Deon Kay on her phone. Debbie Truong/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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Debbie Truong/WAMU/DCist

Members of the Metropolitan Police Department "acted recklessly and without a plan" when a D.C. police officer fatally shot 18-year-old Deon Kay in September, even though the use of deadly force itself was justified, says a new report from the Office of the D.C. Auditor.

The agency undertook a review of the killing after Officer Alexander Alvarez shot Kay in Southeast D.C. last fall, prompting days of vigils and protests against police violence in the city.

On the day of Kay's death, police were in the area because they had seen a video on social media of four people in a car with guns. Kay appeared to be among the young men, holding a firearm as he gazed into the camera. Body-worn camera footage shows that Kay was holding a gun before he was killed, but Alvarez's bullet pierced the young man's chest at or around the same time Kay attempted to hurl the gun.

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The report says Alvarez fatally shot Kay in self-defense during a foot chase, and that it was "reasonable" for Alvarez to believe "he was under 'imminent' attack from an armed man and further to believe that he was at risk of death or serious bodily injury."

But it also says that police "squandered any opportunity to de-escalate the situation" and Alvarez "unnecessarily placed himself" in the events leading to Kay's death. It concludes that MPD "needs to address promptly and aggressively the weaknesses in its system for investigating uses of deadly force."

The report also states that while initial MPD reviews of Alvarez's actions declared them to be justified and within department policy, a later assessment by the department's Use Of Force Review Board determined that the shooting was justified but "with Tactical Improvement Opportunity" — indicating additional training and guidance was needed to rectify the choices and conditions that led to Kay's death.

Federal prosecutors declined to charge D.C. police after Kay's death, saying they could not prove the officer violated civil rights laws.

Similar findings emerged from another review of D.C. police procedures released in March. The audit released Tuesday is the fifth such case study performed by Michael Bromwich, an attorney who oversaw a Memorandum of Agreement between MPD and the Department of Justice on police use of force between 2001 and 2008.

The March audit reviewed the 2018-2019 police killings of four Black men — Jeffrey Price, D'Quan Young, Marqueese Alston, and Eric Carter — and the department's investigations into them. It did not dispute that officers' use of force was justified, but it found "serious lapses" in MPD's handling and investigation of their deaths.

The newest report arrives amid a national and citywide reckoning over police killings. It was requested by the 20-person D.C. Police Reform Commission formed last year after the D.C. Council approved emergency legislation around police and use of force. (The commission's final report was released last month.)

For many activists and community members in the city, Kay's death was another in a long line of unjustified police killings of Black men. Kay's friends and family condemned police for the young man's death, describing him as deeply family-oriented and on the precipice of getting his life on track. Kay had been attending a boarding school in Maryland before the pandemic sent him back to D.C. last year.

"This was a kid that could have turned it around," Grandville Martin, one of Kay's mentors, told DCist/WAMU. "This was a kid that — if he turned his life around, I bet you some of his friends would have turned their lives around. If they would have seen Deon do it, they would have did it. But the problem is, they didn't give him a chance to get there."

The report offers a number of recommendations for MPD, including that it improve use-of-force investigations, better define what Crime Suppression Teams — which Alvarez was a member of — do when out on patrol, and develop a policy on foot pursuits. In a letter responding to the report, Chief Robert J. Contee III agreed with all of the recommendations, and only partially dissented on one.

"The loss of Mr. Kay's life is tragic, for his family, friends, and community, and indeed, our city," he wrote. "Nevertheless, the report confirmed our findings that the officer's use of deadly force in this case was justified. As a progressive police department committed to fair and constitutional policing, we remain open to examining and improving our policies and training to ensure that deadly force is used only as a last resort."

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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