Officer Who Shot Teen at IHOP Not Charged

Outside the Alexandria courthouse, Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel tells reporters about his conclusion.
Outside the Alexandria courthouse, Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel tells reporters about his conclusion. (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
By Jamie Stockwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2006

An off-duty Alexandria police officer was acting in self-defense in February when he fired into a sport-utility vehicle outside a pancake house, killing a teenage passenger, and will not face criminal charges, the city's chief prosecutor said yesterday.

In a 54-page report, Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel concluded that Officer Carl Stowe, working security at an International House of Pancakes, acted reasonably when he ran outside the restaurant over an unpaid $26 bill and signaled for the driver to stop. When the Jeep Cherokee suddenly lurched straight toward him, Stowe feared he would be run over and fired six shots, with one striking Aaron Brown, 18, in the back seat, killing him, Sengel said.

"There is no basis to conclude that Stowe acted recklessly or put himself at unnecessary risk in doing so," Sengel said. "His actions were that of a reasonable officer under the circumstances."

Sengel based his conclusion on an exhaustive three-month review in which he re-interviewed witnesses at the IHOP on Duke Street, brought in independent experts, conducted an elevation survey and pored over ballistic and other physical evidence from the Feb. 25 shooting. Police officials will determine whether Stowe followed department procedures and review their policies on firing at moving vehicles.

Brown, an Eagle Scout in his first year at Northern Virginia Community College, was one of six teenagers inside the SUV as it sped from the restaurant about 4 that morning. He had "so much promise," Sengel told reporters outside the Alexandria courthouse yesterday. "This is truly a terrible tragedy."

At a separate news conference, Brown's parents said they met with Sengel late Monday to discuss his findings. In a voice that wavered on tears, the victim's father, Jeff Brown, told reporters that their meeting was "disappointing but not totally unexpected."

"We take exception to his conclusion but need to have access to all the evidence to proceed," Brown said, adding that they will continue to pursue justice for their son, possibly in the form of a lawsuit. The family planned a candlelight vigil last night in the IHOP parking lot.

The Browns appeared with their attorney, Patrick Malone, and took no questions.

"As we understand the reasoning of [Sengel], he believes the event that caused the death of Aaron Brown was a big misunderstanding between Officer Stowe, who thought the Jeep was trying to run him down, and the driver, who was trying to avoid Officer Stowe," Malone said. "We do not and cannot accept that this was just a misunderstanding."

Sengel said that two "starkly different accounts" emerged from the investigation.

The first, supported by later accounts of passengers, was that Stowe shot at the Jeep to prevent it from escaping and that the officer was in no imminent danger, Sengel said.

But a wealth of physical evidence shows that version to be "impossible," Sengel said in the report, which he released to the public. The evidence does, however, match what other witnesses said they saw that morning, original statements from passengers and Stowe's account: that he fired after the Jeep changed course and headed toward him, the prosecutor said.

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