SILVER SPRING – Members of the Silver Spring community joined local leaders and county and state politicians to denounce the conclusions made by the Montgomery County Police, following an internal investigation into the actions of one of their officers in a police shooting of an African American man during the summer of 2018.
The Silver Spring Justice Coalition held a press conference and vigil, calling for justice for 41-year-old Robert Lawrence White, after an internal review concluded that Officer Anand Badgujar’s actions were lawful and shooting him was justified.
“(MCP) memo’s to the county executive essentially let themselves off the hook for the killing of Robert White last June,” Rev. Matt Braddock of Christ Congregational Church said. “We find the report disturbing, and it raises more questions than it answers.”
The administrative review, released on April 3 at the request of County Executive Marc Elrich, into White’s death came months after Howard County State’s Attorney Dario J. Broccolino ruled that the shooting was justified and no charges would be filed against Badgujar. As part of an agreement concerning officer-related shootings, Howard County officials took control of the investigation.
Body-camera footage of the June 11 incident shows Badgujar approaching White as he walked. As the officer told White “Hey, big man, you need to stop,” the resident ran toward Badgujar before running away. He continued to follow White into the 9200 block of Three Oaks Drive in Silver Spring.
White charged Badgujar again, but this time, the county police officer shot him. White attempted to get back up, stood over the officer and tried to assault him before Badgujar shot him several times, killing White. The investigation into the incident showed that White was carrying a knife but did not use it in his interaction with the officer.
“When Mr. White continued assaulting the officer, Officer Badgujar believed his life was in danger,” the report said. “Based on the actions of Mr. White in the video, there is ample evidence that Officer Badgujar was in danger of serious bodily harm, which would lawfully justify his use of deadly force.”
However, community leaders were not satisfied with the report and called the nature of the internal investigation results “callous and disappointing.” Carlean Ponder of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition told the more than 100 people in attendance at the Christ Congregational Church that MCP did not offer an apology to the family at any point during the investigation.
Members of the community held signs calling for justice for White and “Black lives matter” as speakers discussed the investigation. According to the report, Badgujar was justified in following White after noticing a rip in his clothes, but White put his hands in his pockets once addressed by the officer. Badgujar told investigators that the motion caused him to believe White was armed.
However, members of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition argued that this action should not have been a reason for Badgujar, who was in the area for an unrelated call, to follow White. Ponder said the officer’s actions can be interpreted as racially motivated and the continuation of unfair treatment by police toward African American men.
“Where have we heard that before? We have heard that for the justification of police killings of unarmed black members in this country,” Ponder said. “We do not accept that kind of policing in Montgomery County; as we engage in the selection of a new police chief, we want our voices to be heard loud and clear that (this) type of policing will not be welcomed in this county.”
Community leaders attacked MCP’s lack of local involvement and knowledge of White’s possible diagnosis of a mental illness. In November 2015, a Montgomery County District Court judge committed White to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and concluded that “the defendant may be incompetent to stand trial” in a misdemeanor-trespassing case.
“While MCPD may clear itself on having the grounds to use lethal force, they have not addressed the officer’s lack of competence of de-escalating this interaction with a community member with rage, anger and fright and agitation that may have been caused by a mental health crisis,” Braddock said, demanding to know why Badgujar did not call the MCP’s crisis team for help.
Neighbors relayed similar messages of support for White, calling him a “gentle soul” and a person who was easy to talk to. Rosemary McCloskey got to know White once she moved into the Springbrook Forest and Long Branch area: she said he was always a “nice person” to speak to while out in the neighborhood walking her dog.
However, McCloskey agreed with the chorus of people calling for more community policing and more daily interactions from MCP with Silver Spring residents. As the mother of three African American sons, she said White’s death hit close to home, and she recommends that police officials should, unless called for, “stay the hell out” of their community.
“I do not know the police,” McCloskey said. “I have only lived here four-and-a-half years, but since his killing, if I see a police car anywhere near my neighborhood, my stomach clenches.”
State and local politicians gave their condolences to the White family and offered to do more to provide justice for his death. State Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins (District 20) spoke in support of police reform and said she held herself accountable for not doing enough during the recently ended legislation session in Annapolis.
“I want to say first to the family of Robert White, as I have been in touch with them for several months, I am sorry,” At-Large Councilmember Will Jawando said. “As a person elected by this entire county to pass laws and to decide and make decisions for this county, you have not heard this from anybody else, but I am sorry.”
As the county council works together with the county executive in finding a new police chief, community policing will be a top priority moving forward, Jawando said.
He continued his push for the Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency Act, known as the LETT Act, which would allow the county to conduct its own independent investigations on officer-involved shootings. According to Jawando, the LETT Act will have its second public safety committee meeting on April 12, and he expects it to go in front of the council in May.