The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After officers’ convictions in her son’s death, a mom is taken to jail

After two D.C. officers were found guilty of obstruction and one of them was convicted of murder in Karon Hylton-Brown’s death, his mother tussled with U.S. marshals

Karen Hylton, the mother of Karon Hylton-Brown, along Kennedy Street NW in D.C.'s Brightwood Park neighborhood in February 2021. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)

When the guilty verdicts that Karen Hylton had sought for more than two years finally arrived, she could not contain herself.

The 54-year-old rose from her seat in federal court Wednesday afternoon to confront the two D.C. police officers convicted in the 2020 pursuit that killed her son, Karon Hylton-Brown — both of them for obstructing justice, and one of them for second-degree murder. In an obscenity-laced condemnation, she said, she tried to tell them they were “done tormenting our community.”

Deputy U.S. marshals carried the mother out of the federal courtroom as she tussled with them. She was arrested and detained overnight, accused of assaulting a federal police officer.

The episode was another volatile chapter in an emotionally charged case that strained community relations with law enforcement and fueled destructive protests at the 4th District D.C. police station. Hylton-Brown’s death, which came at a time of raw racial tensions nationwide after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, renewed debates in the city over policing practices, crime and race.

Earlier in the nearly two-month trial, the judge had ejected Hylton for openly sobbing during testimony. Hylton, who was released from custody on Thursday, made no apologies for her behavior. In an interview with The Washington Post, she said the raw emotion was real. But she said she was also trying to make a point about a rare conviction of a police officer for actions while performing official duties.

“The message I’m sending is they can’t get away with it,” Hylton said.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the District said that no charges were filed but that the investigation is continuing. A spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service declined to comment.

The mother who was at the front lines of D.C. anti-police protests

In the interview, shortly after her release, Hylton denied assaulting a deputy marshal. “These officers killed my child and lied about it,” she said of the two D.C. officers found guilty. “Then on the same day the verdicts came out, they locked me up and lied about it.”

The jury deliberated five days before finding Officer Terence Sutton and Lt. Andrew Zabavsky, who are White, guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Jurors also convicted Sutton of second-degree murder.

Prosecutors said the officers violated department policy in what they described as an illegally reckless pursuit of Hylton-Brown, who is Black, in Northwest Washington in October 2020. As Hylton-Brown tried to elude the officers on a rented moped, authorities have said, he collided with a vehicle when he emerged from an alley and was fatally injured.

Zabavsky was not charged directly in Hylton-Brown’s death. But prosecutors said he and Sutton tried to cover up the pursuit and the seriousness of the crash. Sutton’s attorney, J. Michael Hannon, argued the chase was justified because the officers believed Hylton-Brown was about to commit a crime.

Sutton and Zabavsky were freed to await sentencing, which has not been scheduled. Hannon declined to comment on Brown’s assertions or the verdict. One of Zabavsky’s attorneys, Christopher A. Zampogna, issued a statement Friday saying in part: “While we, like many, were surprised and disappointed by the findings of the jury, we are confident that justice will be served in the post-verdict process, including appeal.”

D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said Thursday that “there will be officers who will take this and think about what happened.” He said the department will now work to conclude an administrative review of the incident that could result in both officers being fired.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said, “I wasn’t on the jury, so I have to respect what the jury’s verdict is.”

After a Black man’s death, a D.C. street agonizes over the future of policing

Hylton, who was on the front lines of volatile demonstrations at the 4th District police station in 2020 after her son was killed and also got arrested there, said the guilty verdicts did not surprise her. Of Sutton in particular, she said: “We knew he was guilty. We just needed somebody to put a stamp on it.”