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District releases body camera video in fatal interactions with D.C. police

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), flanked by D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham, speaks at a news conference addressing police-involved deaths in Washington on Friday.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), flanked by D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham, speaks at a news conference addressing police-involved deaths in Washington on Friday. (Michael Brice-Saddler/The Washington Post)
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Authorities in the District made public for the first time on Friday videos from police body cameras and surveillance cameras of two separate fatal shootings by officers in 2018, and said those cases were ruled justified in the use of deadly force.

Officials also released video from another incident in 2018 in which a man on a dirt bike was killed when it slammed into the side of a police cruiser. Police said the officer was suspended for failing to stop at a stop sign as he entered an intersection.

Families of the three men who were killed — D’Quan Young, 24, Marqueese Alston, 22, and Jeffrey Price, 22 — have disputed the police accounts. The families of Alston and Price have filed lawsuits against D.C.

The videos were released under the provisions of an emergency law passed in June by the D.C. Council amid protests nationwide following the death in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The law requires authorities to make body camera footage public after fatal shootings and in other instances of deadly force by police, an effort to increase accountability. Authorities also must identify officers involved in fatal police interactions.

D.C. police released three videos on July 31 related to three deaths involving Metropolitan Police Department officers in 2018. (Video: DC police)

The law requires the release of footage only from officers who are directly involved in using force. Attorneys for the families of two of the men killed questioned why police initially released short versions of the videos and why videos from additional officers were not made public to show varying perspectives.

“There is just so much more information that was missing,” said Joseph Caleb, the attorney for the Young family. “The whole point of this legislation was to act as a means of transparency. But the video that was released is not transparent at all. In fact, it almost seems that pieces were selectively chosen, the opposite of transparency.”

Police said full-length videos of two of the incidents will be put online.

Kevin Donahue, the deputy mayor for public safety, said the videos “resolve some questions that people may have, but they don’t resolve others.”

Police previously had released such footage only in cases approved by the mayor, typically interactions that raised controversy or generated intense public interest.

D.C. officials said relatives of four other victims of deadly police interactions in recent years have exercised a provision under the law to prevent public viewing of the videos.

Marqueese Alston

Alston’s mother, Kenithia Alston, has been pushing for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to publicly release the body camera footage of her son’s shooting for more than a year. During days of demonstrations in D.C. in June, she repeatedly spoke to crowds at Black Lives Matter Plaza, hoping to draw attention to her son’s story.

The young man was killed June 12, 2018, when officers spotted him in Southeast Washington after noticing what they concluded was the outline of a gun in his right front pocket. He ran, police said, and officers chased after him down an alley.

The video moves fast, but slowed down, it shows Marqueese Alston turning to his left, holding what appears to be a gun in his right hand. Police said there are two distinctive sounds of gunfire — first from Alston’s gun, then from two officers, identified as Caleb Demeritt and Ronald Kohch.

Mother of young man killed by police presses for changes

Authorities said they found the gun, shell casings from bullets fired from it, and additional ammunition in Alston’s pocket. They said Alston’s DNA was found on the weapon. Authorities said the shooting was ruled justified.

Kenithia Alston has disputed whether her son was armed and suggested he was a bystander who got shot as police jumped from their cars to confront a group of people. Her attorney, Zina Makar, said it was “really unclear” to them what was in Marqueese Alston’s hand.

Kenithia Alston said in June that she had watched the body camera video and that it did not back the police account.

Makar said the way that police have handled the case felt more like “a self-serving PR stunt than an honest attempt to get at the truth.”

She said that Alston wanted the release of the full body camera footage and the personnel records of the police officers who shot her son. She said her client would have opposed Friday’s release because she does not believe it tells the full story of her son’s death.

Kenithia Alston wants “the unedited, complete raw footage,” Makar said.

Police said they are planning to release the full-length footage from the officers who fired.

D'Quan Young

Young was shot by an off-duty police officer the evening of May 9, 2018, outside the Brentwood Recreation Center in Northeast Washington.

Police said the officer, James Wilson, was in plainclothes and headed to a cookout with friends when Young approached him on 15th Street. Police said the two exchanged words before the shooting.

Because Wilson was not on duty, he was not wearing a body camera. Authorities released footage from a surveillance camera mounted at the recreation center.

The video shows Young walking across the street and toward Wilson. Moments later, Wilson drops a bag and pulls a firearm. Young is obscured. D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters that it appears Wilson did not identify himself as a police officer.

Family questions police investigation after young man fatally shot by off-duty officer

Police said they have not determined who fired first. But police said there was an exchange of gunshots. They recovered a gun and said they matched Young’s DNA to the firearm. Authorities said prosecutors ruled the shooting justified.

Young’s sister, Monica Wood, has questioned the police account, saying relatives were initially told on the scene that an officer had not been involved.

Caleb, the family attorney, accused police of withholding portions of the body-worn camera footage that he said shows the responding officers interacting with the off-duty officer.

“If the officer committed a shooting that he said was justified, the officer would have remained at the scene, and other officers would have interacted with him,” Caleb said. “But there was no footage of that.”

Jeffrey Price

The traffic crash that killed Price occurred May 4, 2018, on Division Avenue in Northeast Washington.

Police said officers had responded to a 911 call for a report of gunshots involving people on an ATV and a motorcycle. Police said Officer Michael Pearson responded to help and entered an intersection as Price’s dirt bike sped north in the southbound lane of Division Avenue.

The dirt bike operated by Price struck the passenger side door of Pearson’s cruiser.

Video from Pearson’s cruiser shows bits of glass as a window smashes when the impact occurs. Police did not release video from other officers who were nearby.

Man operating dirt bike dies after striking side of police cruiser

Police said Price had been speeding, his bike left a 114-foot skid mark before it hit the cruiser, and he was not wearing a helmet.

Police said Pearson had failed to stop for a stop sign to make sure the intersection was clear, a violation of the department’s general orders for police vehicles even while responding to emergencies.

As a result, Newsham said the accident was ruled “preventable,” and Pearson was given a five-day suspension. He served one day; the rest can be applied if there are further infractions.

Price’s uncle, Jay Brown, said the family had no warning the video would be made public, preventing them from processing the traumatic footage together. Police said they were in touch with the family attorney.

Brown said relatives do not believe the police account and called the officer’s suspension “an insult to the family and an insult to the justice system.”

“This officer intentionally ran this stop sign and used his vehicle as a barrier that led to the death of my nephew,” Brown said. “If he wanted to get out of the way, he would’ve never ran that stop sign.”

Clarence Williams contributed to this report.