But the report, with input from three retired police executives from Boston and Charlotte, describes interviews of officers by internal investigators as superficial and inadequate, and criticizes the department for focusing only on the particular moments that deadly force was used, and not looking more broadly at whether police could have avoided the incidents or handled them another way.
For example, the report says investigators did not consider whether officers should have tried to stop and search one man, or whether a pursuit of another man was appropriate. In another case, the authors said the department failed to address poor tactical decisions that led one officer to accidentally shoot a colleague.
The department “owes the D.C. community and the public a robust system for investigating serious uses of force,” according to the report led by the Bromwich Group’s Michael R. Bromwich, who served as a court-appointed monitor overseeing D.C. police investigations of shootings by officers from 2001 through 2008.
The review, released Tuesday, says the department has “fallen short of the standards it should set for itself” and doesn’t measure up to the rigorous reviews it conducted while under federal oversight. “The case studies document failure to comprehensively review the events leading up to the four fatalities and to fully explore the policy, tactical, and training issues they raise,” D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson wrote to District officials.
Acting police chief Robert J. Contee III said in a letter to Patterson that he agrees with the report’s conclusions and promised to implement changes by year’s end.
Those changes include making public internal investigative reports into uses of deadly force, requiring investigators to make specific recommendations regarding training improvements, and mandating that they take more detailed looks into events “leading up to the use of force and all opportunities for de-escalation.”
Contee wrote that department officials “recognize the need to be forward-thinking on how we can continue to increase transparency and broaden the depth of our investigations.”
Gregg Pemberton, chairman of the D.C. police labor union, said officers are working to combat a rise in homicides and gun-related crimes. He said the “speculative report with its overly broad observations” is “just another political swipe at the professional and responsible job our members engage in every day.”
Patterson announced the review in September following a summer of demonstrations after the death in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The examination covers the 2019 death of Eric Carter and the 2018 deaths of D’Quan Young, Jeffrey Price and Marqueese Alston. Police have released body-camera video of many of the incidents. Carter, Young and Alston were shot by police. Price was killed when his dirt bike crashed into a police car as he sped away from officers.
Families of most of the men killed have objected to the police accounts.
The auditor has also asked the Bromwich Group to review the 2020 fatal shooting by police of Deon Kay on Sept. 2 and the death of Karon Hylton on Oct. 23. Federal prosecutors cleared the officer who shot Kay; they are reviewing the case involving Hylton, who was riding a moped when he was struck by a vehicle as he fled police.
Price was fatally injured on May 4, 2018, when his dirt bike struck the side of a police vehicle at Fitch Place and Division Avenue NE.
The Bromwich Group said police failed to examine whether officers, who were looking for a dirt bike in connection with gunshots being fired, had improperly chased Price.
Police investigators ruled that the primary cause of the crash was “Price’s reckless operation of a stolen dirt bike.”
The officer driving the cruiser the bike struck was briefly suspended for failing to stop at a stop sign before entering the intersection where the crash occurred.
Bromwich’s report says investigators “did not adequately explore” whether two other officers engaged in a pursuit, and “whether it violated” police regulations. The report also says investigators did not sufficiently examine whether the officer driving the cruiser that was struck had “blocked” the intersection, which is against department policy.
“We did not find sufficient evidence to determine that the involved officers violated . . . policies or procedures,” the report says.
The auditors also say that interviews with three officers involved were “brief and relatively superficial.”
David Shurtz, who represents the Price family in a lawsuit against the D.C. police, said he thinks that officers intentionally blocked Price’s route and that the “superficial” investigation found in the audit is evidence of a coverup.
Had the officer stopped at the stop sign, Shurtz said, “Jeffrey Price would be alive today.”
Young was shot in May 2018 by an off-duty officer who was headed to a cookout in Northeast Washington. Police said Young approached the officer, who was not in uniform, and questioned whom he was calling on his cellphone.
The officer refused to discuss the issue. As the two faced each other, the report says, Young pulled out a handgun. The officer stepped forward and then both men backed up, with Young firing. The officer returned fire, the report says.
The Bromwich Group agreed that the shooting of Young was justified but criticized the officer for not trying to de-escalate the situation, as required by department rules, and said he “took no steps to avoid the encounter or seek a potential avenue of escape.”
The report says police did not review why the officer did not attempt to ease tensions and said the decision by the officer to keep firing after Young was down “should have been more critically examined.” The officer told investigators that Young still posed a threat.
An attorney representing Young’s family could not be reached for comment.
Alston was shot in June 2018 in Southeast Washington after officers saw a bulge his pants that raised suspicions he was armed. Police said Alston ran after making eye contact with approaching officers.
Police said Alston drew a firearm while he was being chased and fired four rounds at officers. Police said one officer dove to the ground and returned fire. Another officer also fired. Alston was struck by six bullets.
The Bromwich report concludes that the incident unfolded too quickly for officers to exhaust other options before firing.
But the report’s authors questioned whether police had sufficient justification to try to stop Alston.
They said the investigation “focused almost entirely on the moment of the exchange of gunfire” and “not sufficiently on the events leading up to it.”
“The fact that Mr. Alston was in fact carrying a weapon does not eliminate the need for the propriety of the foot pursuit to have been addressed and evaluated,” the authors said.
Zina Makar, an attorney with the Georgetown University Law Center who represents the Alston family in a lawsuit against the city, said police have provided different versions about how the shooting occurred, and she doesn’t think the audit proves that Alston fired first.
She said police have made body-cam video available from only two of the six officers involved and have refused to make public transcripts of interviews with the officers and forensic reports. But Makar said it appears that police were willing to share some of the same information with the auditors, whom she accused of giving police cover by backing their version of how Alston was killed.
Carter was shot in September 2019 on Savannah Terrace SE during a gunfight with police after his mother called 911 saying her son had fired shots inside their apartment.
Police said Carter emerged from the residence after having briefly barricaded himself inside. He had a gun, and as officers yelled, “Put your hands up!” police said he “took aim at the officers and fired his weapon.”
Several officers returned fire, including one armed with an M4 rifle, even as police said Carter continued to advance while shooting before he was fatally wounded on a walkway. Inside the apartment, police found Carter’s brother dead and concluded that Carter had shot him.
The Bromwich Group criticized officers for failing to immediately call for tactical officers experienced in barricade situations, and for using maneuvers that left the officers vulnerable to being shot. The reports says one officer was struck in his tactical vest by gunfire from another officer.
The officer who was hit was not injured, and auditors said the department directed officers to the police academy for review “but made no other findings or recommendations” regarding the friendly fire.
The report says the poor tactical decisions by the officers led to “excessive gunfire from unsafe shooting positions.”
Carter’s family could not be reached for comment Tuesday.