DC police release bodycam footage of fatal shooting of 18-year-old

A scene from the D.C. police officer’s bodycam footage, moments before 18-year-old Deon Kay is shot on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. (Courtesy D.C. police)

D.C. police have released body camera footage of Wednesday’s fatal shooting of an 18-year-old in Southeast.

Police released the body camera footage during a news conference Thursday afternoon with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and police Chief Peter Newsham.

Bowser called the shooting “tragic,” and offered her condolences to the family of 18-year-old Deon Kay. “Our community is hurting, and we know that they want answers,” Bowser said.

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice later identified the officer who fired the shot as Alexander Alvarez.

The police shooting sparked a protest that drew a large crowd to the 7th District police station Wednesday evening and a smaller protest outside Bowser’s home Thursday morning where protesters called on her to fire the police chief.

During the news conference, Newsham also offered “heartfelt condolences” to Kay’s family. “The loss of life of anyone in the District of Columbia is tragic for a family and a community,” he said.

Newsham said officers were in the area of Orange Street Southeast, near Joint Base Anacostia, shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday to investigate the report of a man with a gun. Newsham said officers saw Kay on a social media livestream and knew him by name from previous contacts.

When officers approached a parked car occupied by multiple people, two of them, including Kay, fled on foot and officers pursued them, Newsham said.

During the foot chase, Kay pulled a gun from his waistband, and one of the officers fired a single shot, striking Kay in the chest, Newsham said.

An edited version of the bodycam footage released by police in slow-motion appears to show a gun in Kay’s right hand before he was shot, according to police.

Warning: The following video is the “community briefing” version that D.C. police edited and released. A fuller, redacted version of the bodycam footage can be found here. Some viewers may find the footage distressing or disturbing.

Newsham said officers recovered the handgun that they believe Kay was carrying about 98 feet away from where Kay fell, down a hill near a playground.

In response to a reporter’s question, Newsham said, “It does seem like a long way to throw a weapon.” He added that the officer reported seeing Kay throw the gun after being shot.

The body camera footage shows the officer who fired the shot frantically searching for the gun after firing the shot.

“He threw it,” the officer says to other officers who responded to the scene. “I gotta find it.”

When asked if the officer’s preoccupation with finding the weapon instead of rendering aid was inappropriate, Newsham said, “The officer was concerned about finding the weapon. There were other officers that were administering first aid to Mr. Kay.”

He added, “It’s really hard to say how a person is going to react under extreme stress. And one of the things that folks don’t know is when a police officer is put into that situation — when they fear for their life, that they are going to be shot and killed — that they are under stress. So, his reaction is probably consistent with normal human behavior. But that remains to be seen.”

Asked by a reporter whether he believed Kay was in the process of throwing the weapon before he was shot, Newsham responded, “The video has been put out so that everyone can go and look at the video for themselves. You can stop it frame by frame and make your own determination. We will do the same when we conduct our investigation.”

When asked by reporters how officers knew Kay, Newsham described Kay as a “validated gang member” who had “multiple touches” with the criminal justice system.

“I’m pretty sure that Deon Kay fell through multiple safety nets before yesterday afternoon at just before 4 o’clock,” Newsham said.

At the scene of the shooting, police also arrested 19-year-old Marcyelle Smith, of Southeast D.C., who was charged with carrying a pistol without a license, and 18-year-old Deonte Brown, also of Southeast, who was charged with driving without a permit.

Prosecutors, use-of-force review board investigating shooting

The shooting is now being reviewed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. and the police department’s use-of-force review board.

Newsham said the investigation is in its “infancy,” adding that police still need to take additional witness statements and comb through additional possible video footage. He said it’s too soon for police to say whether the shooting is justified.

“There’s a lot of work yet to be done before we come up with any conclusions,” Newsham said.

A bill passed by the D.C. Council over the summer requires police to release the bodycam footage of any officer involved in a serious use of force within 72 hours.

Newsham said it was a “herculean” effort to release the bodycam footage less than 24 hours after the shooting.

“When we purchased these body-worn cameras, we knew that they wouldn’t answer all the questions for any incident, but they would tell us, you know, in some part what the officer … saw at that time, and getting that out in a responsible way, is how we can help the public answer some questions,” Bowser said.

Anti-racism group, local officials react

Demonstrators organized, in part, by Black Lives Matter DC gathered in front of the 7th District police station after the shooting Wednesday evening, chanting, “Say his name: Deon Kay.”

“Regardless, what you see in the tapes, you know Black people deserve better than this,” the group tweeted Thursday afternoon, circulating a petition calling for defunding the D.C. police department.

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized officers for their overly confrontational approach and not making an attempt to de-escalate the situation before shooting Kay.

“The D.C. police department’s approach to gun recovery has been dangerous and ineffective for years,” said Monica Hopkins, executive director of the ACLU’s District of Columbia branch. “The tragic shooting and death of 18-year-old Deon Kay is the logical conclusion of a policy that not only meets violence with violence, but actually escalates and incites it — especially in our Black communities.”

Hopkins said that it is time to an overhaul the District’s approach to end gun violence and “focus on non-police solutions that address the underlying roots of community violence instead of continuing aggressive police tactics.”

Other local officials also weighed in on Twitter.

D.C. Council member David Grosso said the public deserves “answers and accountability” from the police, and he said Kay’s death “is a failure of our outdated approach to community safety.”

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine responded to those demanding answers, saying, “We hear you and are closely following the ongoing investigation.”

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