DC auditor on Deon Kay killing: Deadly force justified by police, but mistakes made

The use of deadly force was justified in the 2020 D.C. police shooting of 18-year-old Deon Kay, but a D.C. auditor’s report finds officers “acted recklessly and without a plan.”

D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson’s use-of-force review said that officers “squandered any opportunity to de-escalate the situation.”

Kay was shot and killed by Officer Alexander Alvarez Sept. 2, 2020, in the area of Orange Street, in Southeast, near Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling.

MPD’s internal affairs investigation and D.C. prosecutors earlier determined the shooting was justified. Federal prosecutors in November declined to pursue civil rights charges against any D.C. officers in the case.

The shooting prompted protests in the city, one at the 7th District police station and another at the mayor’s house.

The report is the fifth conducted for Patterson’s office by The Bromwich Group, led by Michael Bromwich, who served as Monitor for a Memorandum of Agreement on police use of force between D.C. and Dept. of Justice, from 2001 to 2008.

The shooting came after Officer Alexander Alvarez and other members of the Seventh District Crime Suppression Team saw Kay and three others inside a Dodge Caliber brandishing guns on an Instagram Live feed and went searching for the car. When the police arrived, Kay, whom the police said they knew, got out of the car and ran. As Kay ran toward Alvarez, with a gun in his right hand, Alvarez shot Kay six seconds after getting out of his squad car.

Police released bodycam footage of what happened.

“At that moment, Officer Alvarez was justified in using deadly force,” according to the report. “While we will never know precisely Mr. Kay’s intentions, it was reasonable for Officer Alvarez to believe that he was under ‘imminent’ attack from an armed man.”

However, the report was critical of police tactics which led to the use of force.

“As all of the involved officers acknowledged, no operational plan of any kind had been formulated,” Patterson wrote.

The crime suppression team Alvarez was a part of launched a search for the black 2011 Dodge Caliber “without consulting a higher level of management or devising anything resembling a tactical plan,” Patterson wrote.

When they found the car, officers sprinted toward Kay and others.

“Officer Alvarez recklessly decided to pursue on foot the first person who emerged from the Dodge. In doing so, he ran directly past three other individuals in the car who he had every reason to believe were armed, based on the Instagram Live footage of minutes before,” Patterson wrote.

“This created a grave risk to Officer Alvarez that someone might shoot him from within the Dodge, or emerge from the Dodge with a gun, which is precisely what happened a few seconds later,” Patterson wrote.

Patterson said Alvarez’s “lack of awareness of the risks presented by running past the Dodge could have cost him his life,” and raised the possibility other officers could be in the line of fire when Alvarez shot Kay.

The report listed seven recommendations, to solidify internal affairs use of force investigations, better define the purpose and function of crime suppression teams, and provide guidance for supervisors of CSTs.

“MPD should develop a policy on foot pursuits. Such pursuits are among the most common actions taken by police officers and among the most potentially dangerous, as the events in this case (and others) demonstrate,” according to the report.

Patterson said new police chief Robert Contee is already instituting several of the recommendations.

“Our review of the death of Deon Kay reinforces our view that MPD needs to address promptly and aggressively the weaknesses in its system for investigating uses of deadly force,” the auditor’s report concluded. “It is critical that MPD’s investigations are thorough, credible, and can withstand public disclosure and examination.”

WTOP’s Rick Massimo contributed to this story.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

Colleen Kelleher

Colleen Kelleher is an award-winning journalist who has been with WTOP since 1996. Kelleher joined WTOP as the afternoon radio writer and night and weekend editor and made the move to WTOP.com in 2001. Now she works early mornings as the site's Senior Digital Editor.

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