Kevin Burno was 9 when his brother, convicted of murder and trying to kill a police officer, played the lead role in a jarring documentary about the District’s violent streets.
The cameras were rolling when the boy visited his older sibling at the notorious Lorton prison in Virginia, bragging with youthful swagger about his taut muscles and rapping whimsically about guns and drugs. He shrugged off his brother’s admonishments to avoid a life behind bars: “You can never be me. You can be better than me.”
On Thursday, 15 years after that prison visit, Kevin Burno was in a D.C. courtroom facing charges that he intentionally ran his car into a police officer, who authorities said was badly injured on his motor scooter Tuesday evening when a white Lexus struck him in Southeast Washington.
Burno, now 24, appeared in D.C. Superior Court with two people who police said were passengers in the Lexus. In court documents, police said the driver didn’t have his headlights on until seconds before veering into the opposite lane and hitting the officer, an eight-year veteran who suffered multiple fractures to his left leg and was in surgery most of Thursday. Police did not release the officer’s name.
Burno was raised in the same Southeast neighborhood as his brother, Aundrey, now 33, who is serving a 70-year sentence in a federal penitentiary near Orlando. A 1999 HBO documentary, “Thug Life in D.C.,” contained ominous signs that Kevin Burno might head down the same path as his brother.
But some in his life, including Aundrey Burno and one of the movie’s producers, thought there was hope for him.
“He was a talented kid that had tremendous potential,” said Marc Levin, the New York-based producer of the film, who tried to help Burno out of scrapes and allowed him to intern on movies. “But the world of the hood is a prison in itself. . . . He knew what happened to his brother, and it seemed he was always conscious of the battle not to repeat the life that his brother happened to fall into. It makes you realize that if the hood is all you know, how hard it is to break free.”
The younger Burno has two other criminal cases pending in D.C. Superior Court, both assault charges, and a series of past arrests. And he appeared to embrace at least the culture of thug life; his name is credited to a series of YouTube videos extolling violence. One is titled “Thug Life, it’s been a few years.”
Delores Burno, the brothers’ 49-year-old mother, declined to comment when reached by telephone, saying, “I don’t know what happened.” She did not appear in court Thursday with her son.
Her building sits among countless low-rise apartments with faded brick facades in the Fort Chaplin Park complex along East Capitol Street. At their second-floor apartment, a woman who said she was a relative shouted through the door that the young man’s mother was not home and told a reporter to “come back another time.”
Levin described Kevin Burno as a cute, lovable child who was smart enough to skip a grade. He kept in touch with him, reviewing his writing and music, and tried to persuade him to break from violent rap songs and experiment with something new.
“I always said to him, you’ve got so much more to offer,” Levin said. “You can be a rapper, but you don’t need to be repeating, ‘I’m the tough guy.’ We had an ongoing conversation about that.”
Court documents describe Burno as incoherent the night of the recent arrest. Suspected marijuana and other drugs were found in his pocket, and police said in the papers that he had been drinking a brand of alcohol called “Amsterdam.” Although some authorities said the crash may have been intentional because the officer had spotted the three suspects drinking earlier, other police officials aren’t so sure, saying that the Lexus had been moving erratically for some time and that the crash may have been accidental.
Burno’s previous cases involve mostly minor accusations, including the two pending assault charges. Court files show that one involves a fight over a cigarette. In the other, police said, an officer was struck while intervening in a domestic dispute that allegedly involved Burno and a woman in a Northwest apartment.
Aundrey Burno’s brushes with the law were anything but minor. Prosecutors once described him as an “aspiring cop-killer.” He was 16 in 1995 when he shot a uniformed D.C. police officer in the neck while trying to rob him of his Glock. After the first shot failed to kill the officer, he pulled the trigger again, but the gun jammed. Five weeks later, he robbed a teenager who defied orders to stay prone on the ground. Police said Aundrey straddled him and fired fatal shots.
In the older Burno’s D.C. jail cell, guards found a note he had penned: “I’m on a mission puttin’ cops in a casket.” In another note, he reminisced about shooting the officer, saying, “I laugh now.”
Aundrey Burno allowed filmmakers into his life between sentencings for the two shootings. In an interview taped at Lorton, he said, “I’m still lost in the thug life” — but he implored Kevin, seated across from him, to escape.
“Don’t die for no street,” Aundrey said. “The street ain’t going to die for you.”
But Kevin started talking about his muscles.
“I ain’t have a big brother,” Aundrey replied. “I was looking up to people in the neighborhood, watching them kill, watching them sell drugs, watching them rob. They say only the strong survives. Sometimes the strong dies. Our generation, we die.”
Kevin responded that he was a “smart little boy” who wanted respect. He launched into a rap song, about corner boys and people in jail and “everybody know when they’re dead.”
Before his older brother could say another word, a guard broke in. “Mr. Burno, the time is up.”
Keith L. Alexander and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.