D.C. police probe whether officers at intern shooting site were lax

By Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

D.C. police have opened an internal investigation into the police response to the fatal shooting of Alonte Sutton after witnesses said officers who responded to reports of gunfire Saturday did not thoroughly investigate. The intern's body was not found until Sunday.

Sutton, 18, a high school senior and D.C. Council intern, was found Sunday morning in woods near the 200 block of Newcomb Street SE. Family members said he was killed after he declined to give a ride to a man's girlfriend.

Wayne Sutton said he was told by witnesses that his grandson and the man exchanged words Friday night. The man slashed his tires, and Sutton was changing them Saturday afternoon when the gunman came upon him and opened fire, chasing him into the woods.

Wayne Sutton, 54, said he was upset about the police response, which occurred during an "All Hands on Deck" weekend when there were extra officers on patrol.

"Your job as law enforcement is to go check it out," he said. "He could have slipped and fell. Maybe he could have been saved -- we don't know."

Assistant Chief Peter Newsham said officers from the 7th Police District responded to a call of shots fired Saturday afternoon. Because Sutton's body was not found by police until the next day, the department is reviewing the initial response.

"If there is a witness who's indicating that some police officers didn't do what they were supposed to do, we would like them to come forward," Newsham said. "If the response was inappropriate, it will be dealt with."

Meanwhile, police are looking at a "person of interest" in the shooting, said Capt. Michael Farish, a supervisor in the homicide unit, and officers are gathering evidence with the hope of making an arrest, he said.

Alonte Sutton, a senior at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast Washington, was a strong student who was well-known and liked, Principal Rahman Branch said. Grief counselors were on hand Monday as students returned to classes.

"Things were as good as they could be. It was kind of a quiet day. Everybody went to class . . . but we definitely felt the weight of his absence," Branch said.

In a city where government jobs are highly coveted, Sutton was on his way to building a career in public service. He was among the Class of 2009 summer interns in the D.C. Council Youth Program, assigned to the office of Michael A. Brown (I-At Large). He performed so well that Brown recommended him for a yearlong internship. Sutton was interning most recently in the Support Services Division in the Office of the Secretary to the Council, and his work ethic continued to impress his colleagues.

"Staff who worked closely with Alonte daily described him as a humble young man who was more than willing to perform any task assigned to him," said Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), who founded the youth intern program last year.

Sutton's family gathered Monday in the Northeast Washington apartment of his mother, Terriea Sutton, 34, who displayed photos of her smiling son on a computer.

She said she last spoke with him about 10 p.m. Friday, when he called her and said he was hanging out around Newcomb Street with friends. She said she told him to be careful, because she wasn't comfortable with that neighborhood. He replied, "I know, Mom," she said.

She didn't hear from him all day Saturday, which was unusual because the two talked daily, she said. On Mother's Day morning, she said, she got a bad feeling and called his girlfriend, who told her that witnesses said he had gotten into a fight and had been seen running from a gunman.

Terriea Sutton said she, too, was unsatisfied with the initial police response.

"He was an intelligent young man," she said. "It's heartbreaking."

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