Jay Brown is burning up inside. A report from the D.C. Auditor, released this week, concluded the Metropolitan Police Department’s investigation into his nephew’s death at the hands of its officers was so poor that reviewers could not conclude whether the officers’ actions were justified. The report itself brought back painful memories for Brown, who has pushed for transparency and accountability around officers’ roles in Jeffrey Price‘s death.
“Every time I read something, it’s like ‘Oh, wow,'” he says. “It’s almost like we haven’t buried him yet. It’s like we’re looking for his body or something. We just want to lay his soul to rest, and we can’t do that.”
Then, on Thursday, two days after the report’s release, came Acting Chief Robert Contee‘s confirmation hearing before the D.C. Council. In response to a question about the investigation into Price’s death, Contee incorrectly said “the ultimate findings of the report were that the officers’ actions were justified.”
The report’s lead investigator Michael Bromwich confirms in an interview that Contee’s description is inaccurate. “We didn’t find a policy violation, but the investigation was so inadequate that we were unable to come down with any definitive conclusion,” Bromwich says.
Brown intended to testify at the hearing but decided against it after Contee’s comments. “I ain’t got it in me,” he says.
“You know what happened with my nephew,” he adds. “But you’re still sitting there being untruthful.”
Price was killed when the dirt bike he was riding collided with Officer Michael Pearson‘s patrol SUV on Division Avenue NE in May 2018. Pearson ran a stop sign and pulled into the middle of the road, blocking Price’s path. Price’s family filed a lawsuit related to Price’s death, which is still ongoing. Price’s mother, Denise Price, filed another suit after officers searched her backyard without a warrant days after her son was killed. The ACLU of D.C. represented Denise Price in that case, which settled for an undisclosed amount in November 2020.
MPD concluded allegations of misconduct on the part of Pearson and two other officers who pursued Price were “unfounded,” which added more insult to injury. An allegation that is “unfounded,” according to MPD, means “there are no facts to support that the incident occurred.” Bromwich’s review, commissioned by the D.C. Auditor, points out the absurdity.
“The collision occurred, and Mr. Price died as a result,” the report says. “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 closely examines the deaths of four young Black men—Jeffrey Price, D’Quan Young, Marqueese Alston, and Eric Carter—by MPD officers in 2018 and 2019. It draws from, among other materials, MPD’s internal documents, which rarely see the light of day and therefore are not subjected to public scrutiny. The report identifies “serious lapses” in MPD’s investigations and makes several recommendations. One is publicly releasing those investigations.
Though its conclusions offer families of the deceased men more information than MPD has released so far, the report is another reminder of their loss and their police department’s obfuscation.
Catherine Young, for one, doesn’t really know what to do. It’s been nearly three years since her son, D’Quan, was shot and killed by an off-duty MPD officer, James Lorenzo Wilson. In that time, the department has largely refused to release specific details of the incident, including the officer’s name. Yet small details, at times incorrect or misleading, have leaked.
MPD only released limited, edited versions of surveillance and body camera footage last summer after the D.C. Council passed emergency legislation requiring them to do so. Even in that attempt at transparency, the department was not fully forthcoming.
The auditor’s report indicates that MPD has surveillance footage from an angle they did not previously release to the public. The unreleased footage shows Wilson take cover behind a parked van after exchanging gunfire with Young on May 9, 2018. Wilson then fired from behind the van at Young, who was lying in the street. (Wilson told MPD investigators he believed Young was still pointing a gun at him.) Wilson then paused, peeked out from behind the van a second time, and fired at Young again.
Catherine Young and her sister, Michelle Young, say they did not know the details of Wilson’s final two shots before the auditor’s report was released. They also have not seen the surveillance footage from the alternate angle.
“They showed us a different angle,” Catherine Young says. “All this that they got pictures of [in the report], I’ve never seen that.”
“The truth should have come out, and we’d be done with this,” Michelle Young says. “And now you’re just prolonging this. … It’s a nightmare. I was trying to put this past me, but it’s been a nightmare.”
MPD’s internal investigators concluded that Wilson was justified in killing Young. Although Bromwich and his team agreed, they believe Wilson violated the department’s policy that requires officers to de-escalate situations before resorting to deadly force. Surveillance footage shows Wilson taking an aggressive posture and following Young after he walks away. Bromwich’s review also says Wilson’s final two shots from behind the van, which can only be seen in the previously unreleased footage, are “arguably not justified under MPD policy.” Neither issue—Wilson’s failure to de-escalate nor his final two shots while Young lay on the ground—were adequately explored by MPD’s internal investigators, Bromwich found.
MPD deputy director of communications Kristen Metzger says in an email that Wilson is no longer with MPD. She says that MPD has no plans to release the internal investigation into Young’s death or the final report from the Use of Force Review Board, an internal arm that reviews MPD’s serious uses of force.
The release of those documents is one of the most significant recommendations in Bromwich’s report. Contee, in his attached written response, promises to implement each and every one. In fact, he writes in an email, MPD has already started implementing some of them.
But when asked directly during his confirmation hearing this week whether he would agree to publicly release use of force investigations, Contee hedged.
“I think that that’s something I’m open to,” he said. “I’m certainly open to it. I am. Because I think that again, this situation came out as a result of the auditor’s report. I just need to talk to my team about the best way to do that. I think my goal is to work towards yes.”
Contee grew up in the Carver Terrace neighborhood in Ward 5 and started as a cadet with MPD in 1989. He has wide support across the District and is expected to be confirmed by the Council.
Brown, for his part, can’t support the new chief. He recalls a question during Thursday’s hearing from Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George, who asked Contee to acknowledge any of the department’s past wrongs.
“He had an opportunity to say right then and there, ‘Officer Michael Pearson blew through a stop sign, which led to Jeffrey Price’s death,'” Brown says.
Brown acknowledges that the ongoing litigation may restrict what Contee can say about the case, but the chief’s statement that his nephew’s death was justified still eats at him.
“The only thing you came out with at the end was these are justified? There was so much said in that report,” he says. “I felt like he had no respect with those comments.”