Jury to decide case of DC officers accused in moped driver’s death

A jury Thursday will discuss whether two D.C. police officers are to blame for a chase that ended in the death of a man riding a moped illegally.

In October 2020, 20-year-old Karon Hylton-Brown was riding a Revel rental scooter, which has a top speed of 30 mph, on the sidewalk and without a helmet – both of which are traffic violations – in the 400 block of Kennedy Street in the Brightwood neighborhood.

Two officers – Terence Sutton and Andrew Zabavsky – in separate police cars, tried to stop him. When he didn’t stop, both officers turned on their lights and pursued him for more than three minutes “through neighborhood streets with pedestrians and other vehicles present,” at times reaching 45 mph, and driving the wrong way on one-way streets and through seven stop signs, according to the indictment.

Hylton-Brown died in a hospital after succumbing to injuries after a motorist struck him in Brightwood Park.

After eight weeks of trial, the prosecution and defense agreed that the undisputed facts are that Hylton-Brown was riding a moped illegally, that he was fleeing from police, and he had both oxycodone and high levels of THC in his blood stream. And while Hylton-Brown should have stopped for police, it’s also acknowledged that Sutton violated D.C. police policy by chasing him through the streets and alleys.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ahmed Baset criticized the character of the officers, saying their chase of Hylton-Brown was a “game” that ended in the young man’s murder.

In particular, he said Sutton forced Hylton-Brown out of that alley in a deadly game of chicken, causing the crash. Baset said it would be considered second-degree murder, because without Sutton’s actions, Hylton-Brown would not have been in a crash and would not have died that night. He called Sutton the link to the whole fatal outcome.

As for Zabavsky, who is accused of obstruction and conspiracy, Baset said he and Sutton turned off their body cameras and tried to come up with a story that would work. Baset pointed to an initial police report that seemed to misrepresent several key elements.

Zabavsky’s attorney argued that it is hard to credibly accuse his client of trying to cover anything up, when he made sure to preserve all of his body camera video for an extended period, then specifically labeled it later for the department’s Internal Affairs Department.

Sutton’s attorney Michael Hannon said, “This is a backwards case.”

Sutton pointed out the amount of THC found in Hylton-Brown’s system, which was around 10 times the amount needed to impact someone’s abilities, saying it’s what caused Hylton-Brown to turn into the car that he ultimately slammed into.

Hylton-Brown’s death sparked days of protests in the District. The mother of his daughter filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit on her behalf against D.C., including the mayor, the attorney general and members of the police department involved in the pursuit that led to his death.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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