While prosecutors in Howard County said the June 11th shooting by a Montgomery County Police officer of Robert White, an unarmed African-American man, was justified, many residents are not buying the answers they are getting from County officials.
Tuesday night, the District-20 delegation to Annapolis – the district that represents the part of Silver Spring where the shooting took place – hosted a public forum about the shooting.
While the forum was hosted by the District-20 delegation to Annapolis, and led by State Sen. Will Smith, much of the public’s questions and ire were directed at Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger and Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.
“I would never stand up here and tell you that we don’t make mistakes, that we haven’t done some things wrong in the past,” Manger said. “And I will tell you that I believe that, we’re still, that law enforcement is still paying for the sins of our fathers and grandfathers the way that people were treated back in the ‘60s and ‘50s.”
For many of those in attendance, Tuesday night’s meeting at the Silver Spring Civic Center was emotional, as many of White’s former neighbors asked questions that Manger could not answer.
“I’m going to be very honest, that this has completely broken trust, and I feel directly your personal response and the State’s Attorney’s personal responses to this has made the trust worse,” a woman told Manger in response to some of his answers at the public forum.
Some of the members of the public criticized Manger for deciding to not release the body-camera footage before the criminal investigation was over, saying he did so because he did not want to bias a potential grand jury pool.
But one member of the community said a Montgomery County Police statement about the officer-involved shooting began with an “assault on an officer,” something that Manger contends is a true statement.
People in attendance asked why Officer Anand Badgujar did not wait for backup to arrive and why he took his gun out and pursued White through the neighborhood – questions that Manger said he could not answer because Badgujar has not sat down with police for an interview yet.
However, when Montgomery County Police finishes its internal investigation of Badgujar, the report will not be made public.
“When our internal investigation is complete, I certainly will be able to answer additional questions,” Manger said. “Internal investigations have been deemed by law to be [considered] personnel files, so they are not public information.”
Manger said the Montgomery County Police internal affairs investigation into the shooting has just begun and that they will learn more about what Badgujar was thinking during the incident with White after he sits down and answers questions with investigators. However, McCarthy explained that during the criminal investigation, prosecutors could not compel Badgujar to speak to them, as he, like any American citizen, has the right to remain silent.
However, MCPD can compel Badgujar to answer questions during the internal investigation process.
People also questioned McCarthy’s decision to partner with the Howard County’s State’s Attorney’s Office on the investigation into the police shooting. The two counties have agreements with one another to investigate officer-involved shootings by each other’s police department.
“We can’t vote for that [Howard County] State’s Attorney to go out, but we could hold, I suppose, Mr. McCarthy accountable,” one woman at the forum said.
While some community members are upset by the decision, seeing that they have no accountability over a State’s Attorney in another county, McCarthy said he made the decision to partner with Howard County after the release of a 2015 Obama administration report suggesting that jurisdictions have outside prosecutors investigate police shootings.
McCarthy said the agreement he arranged between Montgomery and Howard Counties was not meant to take away responsibility from his office, but rather provide much-needed independence.
“About seven or eight of the women that work in my office are married to police officers,” McCarthy said. “They all socialize with them, so getting the independence of an outside person looking at that case was what we were attempting to achieve.”
McCarthy said since the two counties made their agreement, Howard County has investigated six Montgomery County officer-involved shootings, with the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office considering five of those shootings justified, and one unjustified.