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Her eyes cast down on the sheet of paper in front of her, Catherine Young’s voice shook as she struggled to push the words from her mouth. As the nine-month anniversary of her son’s death at the hands of an off-duty Metropolitan Police Department officer approached, Young testified before the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety to bring public attention to the case.
MPD has yet to identify the officer, and has released few details about the fatal incident, leaving D’Quan Young’s family with no choice but to assemble the little information they have into an account of how he died.
“I just want an answer to who is the police officer,” Catherine Young said at the committee oversight hearing. D’Quan Young’s father, Don Davis, consoled her. “I just don’t understand where’s the transparency,” she said. “I just have no understanding.”
Between pauses and deep breaths, Catherine Young continued to recount her memories of May 9, 2018, for the committee. She described waiting hours on the scene for officers to tell her what hospital her son was taken to. Once at the hospital, she said, homicide detectives barraged her with questions before they would tell her whether her 24-year-old son was alive or dead.
When she was finally permitted to see his body, she says in a separate interview with City Paper, he was laying on a table in a hallway.
“He had a blanket, but it looked like they had just taken the tubes out of his mouth,” says Michelle Young, Catherine’s sister, who accompanied her to the hospital. “He may have been there for a while.”
Councilmember Charles Allen, who chairs the judiciary committee, said he was “deeply disturbed” to hear how Catherine Young was treated.
“It’s devastating to hear, and I’m incredibly disappointed that that’s what took place,” Allen said. “That’s unacceptable. The entire incident is unacceptable, but in particular the way in which you’re describing the interactions you had.”
MPD has declined to answer City Paper’s questions about the fatal encounter, including whether the officer in question is working while the case is under investigation. The department has released no further information since Catherine Young told her story at the Feb. 7 committee hearing. Soon after the incident in 2018, MPD announced that the officer would be put on administrative leave.
An MPD spokesperson says the case is “under review” by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether to bring criminal charges against the officer.
Although it’s not unusual for MPD to withhold an officer’s identity while he or she is under investigation, the department has no official policy guiding release of information following an officer-involved shooting, an MPD spokesperson says. Departments across the country are moving toward more transparency and accountability in police shootings.
The Seattle Police Department’s internal policies, for example, require all officers who discharge a firearm in an officer-involved shooting to be publicly identified within 48 hours. Within 72 hours, the department will release relevant video footage, if any exists.
In 2014, it took police in Ferguson, Missouri, six days to identify Darren Wilson as the officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown. The fatal encounter sparked months of public protests and riots in the St. Louis suburb and drew national attention.
There’s even precedent in D.C.
In July 2016, Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered the release of body camera footage showing a fatal confrontation between police and a man in Northeast. At the time, City Administrator Rashad Young told the Washington Post that the mayor believed the public’s interest in seeing the video outweighed the government’s need to keep it secret even during the early stages of the investigation.
And later that year, in September, Bowser broke with longstanding police practice and identified the officer who shot and killed unarmed motorcyclist Terrence Sterling. The officer, Brian Trainer, was ultimately fired, and Sterling’s family settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the city for $3.5 million.
There is, however, another local example where law enforcement has clamped down on information in a fatal shooting. In November 2017, U.S. Park Police shot and killed motorist Bijan Ghaisar, who was unarmed. Authorities have released video footage, but no officers have been identified.
“I can understand why it might take the U.S. Attorney some time,” says Arthur Spitzer, legal director for the ACLU of DC. “It’s not unusual in my experience for them to take some time to prosecute somebody, though May to February is, I hope, above average. I still don’t know why they can’t disclose the name of the officer.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has offered no timeline for when investigators will be finished reviewing D’Quan Young’s case. Until then, his family is left to piece together fragmented witness accounts and the few details that Chief Peter Newsham has made public.
Davis calls the police department every week asking for an update on his son’s case. Every week, he’s told the case is still under review. Recently, police told him that they are waiting for analysis of surveillance video.
Catherine and Michelle Young describe a chaotic scene the day they arrived at the 2300 block of 15th St. NE, near the Brentwood Recreation Center.
D’Quan Young had already been taken to the hospital. Michelle Young says witnesses told them that he was shot by an officer in plain clothes, while officers on the scene initially told her that that wasn’t true.
The confusion may have stemmed from the fact that a sergeant did not immediately notify superiors that an officer had fired his weapon. That sergeant was suspended pending an internal investigation, Newsham has said.
Witnesses also told Michelle and Catherine Young that D’Quan Young was “walking away” after the two had been talking.
In her written testimony this month, Catherine Young questioned whether her son and the officer knew each other and why, as some witnesses initially said, the officer reloaded his weapon. Newsham has said that preliminary evidence indicates the officer did not reload.
One witness, Andy Williams, says he was on a nearby softball field when he heard shots ring out. He says he arrived in time to see D’Quan Young fall to the ground. And he saw a broken gun in the street some distance away from his body.
About a week after the incident, Chief Newsham offered more details, saying D’Quan Young “came across the street and confronted the officer,” who was on his way to a cookout with friends. “Quickly thereafter shots were exchanged between the two,” Newsham said on Fox5.
Some of Newsham’s comments, though, appear to D’Quan Young’s family as attempts to vilify him without releasing all the information. For example, the chief also said it’s “disturbing to us that we have someone carrying an illegal firearm and confronting people on the street. God forbid that wasn’t a police officer. We don’t know what might have happened to some other young man walking through that neighborhood.”
In a separate interview, Newsham mentioned D’Quan Young’s previous arrests, two of which were firearm related. One resulted in a conviction, but it was reversed on appeal, according to online court records.
Catherine and Michelle Young acknowledge that D’Quan Young wasn’t perfect, but his criminal record and the chief’s comments do not adequately describe the man they knew.
They remember him as a good older brother, who encouraged his siblings to “read the book” (referring to the Bible or the Quran). He talked of starting his own business and sold soaps and oils on the street, Catherine Young says. In accordance with his Muslim faith, she says, he went every day to pray at the recreation center near the area where he was shot.
They say he was a loving father to his now 5-year-old daughter, and made sure she went to the dentist and the doctor. Catherine Young says that around this time last year, he took the young girl to see Disney On Ice—a tradition she kept going this year.