Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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In an internal investigation into Officer James Lorenzo Wilson, who was off duty when he shot and killed D’Quan Young in 2018, the Metropolitan Police Department did not examine whether Wilson could, or should have de-escalated the situation. Video evidence suggests that Wilson had the opportunity to defuse his interaction with Young, but may have escalated it.

MPD’s internal investigation into the death of Jeffrey Price after he collided with Officer Michael Pearson‘s patrol SUV in 2018, failed to fully explore the central question in the fatal incident: Did Pearson intend to use his SUV as a roadblock?

The department’s final report in the death of Marqueese Alston, who was killed in June 2018 after exchanging gunfire with officers, did not investigate why the officers chased him in the first place. The internal investigator’s interviews with most of the officers involved in Alston’s death lasted less than 10 minutes. The interview with one officer lasted eight minutes—only about five of which included substantive questioning.

And the internal investigation into the death of Eric Carter, who died after an exchange of gunfire with officers in September 2019, yielded potentially conflicting descriptions of Officer Dennis Sfoglia‘s failed attempt to force entry into an apartment. In one place, the report does not definitively state whether Sfoglia tried to kick the door down or whether he kicked it to get a response from the occupants.

These are some of the findings in a new report from the Bromwich Group LLC, a firm the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor hired to review four fatal uses of force by MPD officers from 2018 to 2019. The report draws from interviews with MPD brass and internal investigations not typically available to the public. The Bromwich Group’s independent investigators agree with MPD’s determinations that officers’ fatal uses of force in three cases were justified. In the fourth case, involving Price’s death, the reviewers did not find sufficient evidence to determine if officers violated MPD’s internal policy. In all four cases, the report identifies serious holes in the investigations and reveals how MPD failed to fully investigate the circumstances leading up to the four deaths.

The report also notes that MPD has been through this before. In 2016, the Bromwich Group, led by Michael Bromwich, issued the report, “The Durability of Police Reform: The Metropolitan Police Department and Use of Force 2008-2015,” which examined whether MPD retained the use of force reforms the Department of Justice mandated in 2001. The 2016 report concluded MPD’s policies remained consistent with the reforms it implemented in its agreement with the DOJ, but its use of force investigations had deteriorated.

(Bromwich also served as the monitor for use of force reforms from 2001 to 2008; former Boston Police Department Superintendent Ann Marie Doherty and former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Dennis Nowicki also served on the monitoring team and on the 2016 and 2021 review teams.)

“Unfortunately, the weaknesses identified in our 2016 report have not been
remedied,” Bromwich’s 2021 report says. “Indeed, they have grown substantially worse. Our review of the four 2018–2019 fatal use of force cases has shown that those weaknesses persist, and that generally MPD has not recognized them and appears to resist or be unconcerned with remedying them.”

The report released today makes several recommendations including specialized training for use of force investigators and the public release of the final use of force report and the Use of Force Review Board’s findings, among others.

Acting MPD Chief Robert Contee, in a letter attached to the report, agrees with all of the report’s recommendations and pledges to implement the changes by the end of the year.

In an emailed statement to City Paper, Contee reiterates his commitment to thorough investigations, model policies, and transparency.

“Our interactions with the community must be rooted in legitimacy and equality, which is why it is critically important that there is a thorough review of all aspects of the Metropolitan Police Department,” Contee’s statement says in part. “While I am pleased that the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor’s report confirmed that the uses of force in the cases reviewed were justified, we recognize that the loss of any life is tragic, and as a Department, we must ensure that we are doing everything in our power to prevent those situations from occurring.”

A public roundtable on Contee’s confirmation is scheduled for this Thursday, March 25.

Below are more detailed descriptions of each of the four cases the report examines, the investigations, and their shortcomings.

D’Quan Young

Young approached Wilson in the 2300 block of 15th Street NE in May 2018. Wilson was on his way to meet other off-duty officers for a cookout. He called one of them for help finding the house when Young asked him who he was talking to. Wilson recalled saying “What’s it to you?” or “None of your business,” according to his statements to MPD investigators.

Video footage shows Wilson move from the sidewalk to the street, where Young was standing. Wilson then puts his bag on the ground, and tugs at his sleeves “in what appears to be a further sign that he was prepared to fight with Mr. Young,” the independent report says.

Young moves to the sidewalk, and Wilson follows, surveillance video from the nearby Brentwood Recreation Center shows. Wilson told investigators that Young then reached into his waistband and pulled out a pistol. “Be cool,” Wilson said Young told him. Video footage shows Wilson take a step toward Young while Young retreats. Then Wilson rapidly moves backward, pulls his service weapon, and fires at Young.

Wilson took cover behind a parked van while Young collapsed in the street. Wilson fired at Young from behind the van. He then paused, peeked out from the driver’s side, and fired again as Young lay on the ground. He told investigators Young continued to point the gun at him, which Bromwich’s team found “not wholly convincing.”

Until last summer, MPD had refused to release body-worn camera footage or other video of fatal incidents. The department finally did so after the D.C. Council passed legislation requiring public disclosure. The video of Young’s death is taken from the Brentwood Recreation Center’s surveillance cameras. MPD’s edited version of that footage cuts off before Wilson takes cover behind the van. It does not show him fire the two additional shots while Young lies on the ground.

Bromwich’s report agrees Wilson was justified in using deadly force. But the independent reviewers say the final two shots Wilson fired from behind the van are “arguably not justified under MPD policy and should have been analyzed more critically” by the department. The report also notes MPD did not investigate or address Wilson’s failure to de-escalate the situation, as department policy requires him to do. Bromwich and his team conclude that Wilson violated internal policy.

“Officer Wilson’s actions in confronting Mr. Young in the street and then following him on to the sidewalk substantially increased the likelihood that the confrontation would become deadly,” the report says. “Before they faced each other on the sidewalk, Mr. Young had not shown his gun and had not overtly threatened Officer Wilson in any way.”

The Bromwich report also points out mischaracterizations in MPD’s final report. In one place, for example, MPD internal investigators describe Young as “display[ing] characteristics of an armed gunman while using the vehicle in front of him as cover.” 

The Bromwich investigators “saw little or no evidence to support that speculative conclusion other than Officer Wilson’s own statements, which were subject to being shaped by his desire  to justify his own actions.”

The summary and conclusion section of MPD’s report glosses over important facts that point to Wilson’s failure to de-escalate the situation. That Wilson came off the sidewalk to meet Young in the street and then followed Young onto the sidewalk isn’t mentioned at all, Bromwich notes.

“Rather, that important interaction is summarized as ‘Mr. Young and Officer Wilson both ended up on the east sidewalk,’” Bromwich’s report says. “True, but they ‘ended up’ there because Officer Wilson followed Mr. Young.”

Jeffrey Price

Officers David Jarboe and Anthony Gaton began pursuing Price, who was on a dirt bike, a few minutes after 1:20 p.m. on May 4, 2018. There had been a report of gunshots fired in the area, and of two men fleeing—one on a four-wheeler, the other on a dirt bike.

Jarboe and Gaton radioed as they chased Price in their police vehicle. Officer Michael Pearson headed in their direction. Pearson drove his police SUV into the intersection of Fitch Place and Division Street NE when he saw a dirt bike approaching. Price applied the brakes and skidded more than 100 feet before colliding with Pearson’s front passenger door. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

MPD’s internal investigators deemed any potential policy violations “unfounded,” which according to MPD’s definition means “there are no facts to support that the incident occurred.” The Use of Force Review Board, the internal arm that reviews serious uses of force, agreed with internal investigators’ determination.

Bromwich and his team do not agree. The collision obviously occurred, and Price died as a result. “So at best it is misleading and confusing to find that the allegations are ‘unfounded,’ according to MPD’s own definition of that term,” the report says. But Bromwich did not find enough evidence to say the officers violated MPD’s policies, and recommended the officers be “exonerated.”

MPD’s investigation “did not adequately question Officer Pearson’s account of the collision to fully explore the ‘blocking’ allegation,” the report says. “Nor did it adequately explore whether Officers Jarboe and Gaton engaged in a vehicle pursuit, as defined by MPD policy, and if they did, whether it violated any MPD requirements.”

The investigation’s shortcomings are largely due to the ambiguity in MPD’s vehicular pursuit policy. “For example, MPD’s vehicular pursuit policy defines the situation where a police officer does not activate emergency equipment as something other than a pursuit when law, logic, and common sense dictate the opposite,” the report notes.

The report also says investigative interviews of the three officers were “brief and relatively superficial, especially in the re-interviews, which were perfunctory and lacking in substance.

“This is unacceptable in any investigation,” the report says. “But especially in a case involving death.”

Marqueese Alston

Two cars of officers were patrolling in the 3700 block of First Street SE on June 12, 2018, when some of them jumped out and chased Alston down an alley.

Alston drew a pistol and turned and fired at the officers, but he did not hit them. The officers returned fire and hit Alston at least six times. The foot chase lasted 12 seconds. Alston was pronounced dead at the scene.

Bromwich’s report agrees with MPD’s conclusion that the officers were justified in using deadly force. But the report identified more failures in MPD’s internal investigation.

Internal investigators should have probed a central question of why officers initiated contact with Alston in the first place, the report says, and focuses on Officer Caleb Demeritt in particular, who fired eight shots.

“The [Internal Affairs Division] report’s account of how and why Officer Demeritt pursued Mr. Alston does not appear to be supported by the weight of the evidence,” Bromwich’s report says. “The [MPD] report suggests that he ‘joined’ three other officers  — each of whom believed Mr. Alston was armed — in an existing pursuit. But nearly all of the evidence suggests that Officer Demeritt was initially unaware that Mr. Alston was armed and initiated the pursuit on his own.”

Bromwich continues: “Neither the report nor the investigation adequately addressed how and why Officer Demeritt joined the pursuit and whether Officer Demeritt had an adequate factual basis for doing so. Instead, it focused almost entirely on the moment of the exchange of gunfire between Mr. Alston and the officers and not sufficiently on the events leading up to it.”

Eric Carter

Carter’s mother called police on Sept. 16, 2019, to report her son was firing a gun in her apartment. Officers arrived within minutes, and radio transmissions indicated Carter may have mental health issues.

Officers gathered on the front steps of the building on the 2200 block of Savannah Terrace SE and discussed tactics. They heard a gunshot they believed came from inside Carter’s apartment, and ran up the staircase.

Officer Dennis Sfoglia held a ballistic shield and kicked at the door several times but it did not open, and no one responded. The officers then returned to the front stoop. But less than a minute later, Sfoglia said he saw “someone jiggling the door” to the apartment in question. Carter stepped out after Sfoglia yelled a command to “come out with your hands up,” but then retreated inside.

Carter soon re-emerged from the apartment. An officer yelled “he’s got a gun,” and “put your hands up,” and “nearly simultaneously with the officer’s command, Mr. Carter raised his gun, took aim at the officers and fired his weapon.”

Multiple officers fired back, killing Carter.

Bromwich again agrees their use of deadly force was justified, but identified several tactical missteps. At the outset, Bromwich’s report says, someone should have called the Emergency Response Team, as MPD’s policy requires when they encounter an armed person with mental health issues.

“That did not occur and the issues relating to declaring a barricade and notifying the ERT were not explored,” the report says.

Additionally, officers gathered on the front stoop and created a so-called “fatal funnel” that might have caused many officers to turn their backs to Carter as he fired and “likely contributed” to Officer Juwan Jefferson accidentally shooting Sfoglia, who sustained a minor injury. Jefferson ultimately fired 18 rounds in 10 seconds, including about three seconds while his back was turned to Carter, while other officers crossed into his view.

Officer Roger Gordon described the barrage of bullets to MPD investigators as the “OK Corral.” At least one bullet broke the window of another apartment in the building where a family with two young children lived.

In addition to MPD investigators’ inability to definitively say whether Sfoglia tried to forcibly enter the apartment or simply intended to knock on the door with his foot, they also did not determine whether officers had a plan if they breached the door.

“In fact, the Summary and Conclusions section does not even mention the attempted breach—a fact that may have precipitated the use of force incident in the first place,” Bromwich’s report says. “Instead, it misleadingly states that Mr. Carter emerged from Apartment 12 and fired on the officers while the officers were waiting for [the Emergency Response Team] to arrive.”

Finally, Bromwich notes Gordon falsely said he had been shot. During Gordon’s interview, MPD’s internal investigators summarized the body camera footage that “cast considerable doubt” on whether he was actually shot. Body-worn camera footage showed he was likely cut on an iron fence, and he ultimately admitted he was mistaken, Bromwich’s report says.

However, “these facts, undoubtedly, bear on Officer Gordon’s overall credibility and should have been addressed more explicitly in [MPD’s final report,]” Bromwich’s report says. “While Officer Gordon’s statements about the incident likely did not have a significant effect on the central conclusions of the report, the issue should have been highlighted for the UFRB.”

This post has been updated to clarify the independent reviewer’s findings.