Protesters can be seen in the reflection of a D.C. police vehicle window.
D.C. police vehicle Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

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Michael Hannon, an attorney for D.C. police officer Terence Sutton, spent the better part of two days trying to convince U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman to allow him to describe to jurors the criminal history and other derogatory details about Karon Hylton-Brown, the man Sutton is accused of killing while on duty on Oct. 23, 2020.

Throughout two days of hearings that preceded Sutton’s trial for second degree murder and obstruction in the death of Hylton-Brown, Hannon questioned current and former Metropolitan Police Department officers about what they know about the deceased, his previous brushes with the criminal system, his alleged affiliation with a crew known as “KDY,” his social media presence, and the events that led to his death.

Hannon argued that those details are important for jurors to know as they decide whether Sutton should be held criminally liable in Hylton-Brown’s death following a vehicle chase. Prosecutors argued that much of the information should not come before a jury and has no bearing on the central question of the case: What was in Sutton’s mind on the night in question?

By the end of it, following a tense exchange with Hannon and Friedman shouting over each other, the visibly aggravated judge declared that “most of this evidence will be excluded” from the trial.

“Go rewrite your opening statement,” Friedman admonished Hannon.

The judge has yet to issue a final order. But throughout the two days of testimony, Friedman noted from the bench that several pieces of evidence, such as YouTube videos, details about MPD’s gang database, and an informal log of people and arrests in the Fourth District, known as a “beat book,” would be excluded.

(On the first day of hearings, Friedman closed the courtroom, over City Paper’s objection, so a witness could speak about a document MPD shared with Sutton’s defense team but that the department wants to keep secret.)

Through testimony and surveillance video footage, Hannon provided more details of the events that led Sutton and other officers to pursue Hylton-Brown two years ago.

Former MPD officer Cory Novick testified that he and two other officers were riding in the car with Sutton during their Oct. 23 shift on the Crime Suppression Team. Novick said Officer Kathryn Pitt (also identified during the hearing as Pitt-O’Neil) told them she saw Hylton-Brown get involved in an altercation earlier that day, then leave the area near Kennedy Street NW, and later return.

Novick said he had a “hunch” that Hylton-Brown had returned for “retaliation” based on Pitt’s report that Hylton-Brown was riding a moped “erratically” and “without a particular purpose.” Novick said he and the other officers agreed Hylton-Brown’s behavior was suspicious, and they set out to find and stop him.

(Novick said his police powers were suspended after Hylton-Brown’s death and he was transferred from the CST to the command information center while he was under investigation by internal affairs. He later resigned from MPD to take a job with the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office.)

Later that evening, Sutton, Novick, and the two other officers in the vehicle, Ahmed Al-Sharwi and Carlos Tejera, passed Hylton-Brown as he pushed a moped the other way on a sidewalk near 5th and Kennedy streets NW. Sutton made a U-turn and caught up with Hylton-Brown, who had started to ride the moped. Surveillance video played in court showed Sutton pull in front of Hylton-Brown at a crosswalk. According to Novick, Sutton said through the open window, “lemme holler at you,” but Hylton-Brown had no interest in speaking with the officers. He said “fuck you,” and drove the moped around the police car and through a red light, surveillance video showed. Sutton and Lt. Andrew Zabavsky, who was driving in a separate vehicle, followed close behind. (Zabavsky is facing obstruction and conspiracy charges in Hylton-Brown’s death.)

A 3D replica of the moped Hylton-Brown was riding the night of the fatal encounter, taken by Officer Terence Sutton’s accident reconstructionist.

The brief interaction kicked off a vehicle chase that ended with Hylton-Brown fleeing through an ally and into cross traffic on Kennedy Street NW. He was struck by a driver and later pronounced dead at the hospital.

Hannon also called officers Troy Scott and Meghan Murrock, as well as Sgt. Gregory Hubyk to testify, all of whom worked with Sutton at some point.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower argued during the hearing and in motions filed with the court that Sutton, through his attorney, has sought to denigrate Hylton-Brown and blame him for his death.

She cast doubt on Sutton and the other officers’ reason for stopping Hylton-Brown in the first place. None of the officers said they saw Hylton-Brown with a weapon or suspected him of committing a crime, Berkower said: “There was no look-out for him, nothing indicating he was involved in criminal activity that night.”

She also pointed out that none of the officers who testified could speak to what Sutton was thinking as he chased Hylton-Brown. “There is no nexus between all the derogatory information the defense seeks to get in and Mr. Sutton’s state of mind while he was engaging with Mr. Hylton-Brown,” Berkower argued.

“If Mr. Sutton exercises his right to testify, then he can explain why he did what he did,” Berkower said in court.

In response, Hannon said that you can’t defame a dead person. He also argued that Berkower’s argument is “built on a false premise” that the only question is what was going through Sutton’s mind. He said the jury should also hear details about Hylton-Brown’s state of mind and why he fled from police.

Friedman wasn’t buying it.

“It’s not a false premise!” Friedman said. “Why did Mr. Sutton do what he did? That’s the issue in the case.”

Underlying this dispute is the question of whether Sutton will testify in his own defense. Defense attorneys are wary of letting their clients take the stand, which opens them to cross examination. It’s unclear whether Sutton will tell jurors what he was thinking on the evening in question. The trial is scheduled to begin Monday, Oct. 24.

As day two of the hearings came to a close, Friedman noted that if Sutton is convicted, he will have several issues to raise in an appeal. The dispute over whether a jury can hear details of Hylton-Brown’s past “will be one of them,” the judge said.