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Killed While Handcuffed: A Shocking, Deadly Police Shooting In World's Richest Black County

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Feb 5, 2020 - 10:00:12 AM

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Attorney William “Billy” Murphy, Jr. at a press conference with members of William Green’s family.

WASHINGTON—William Green’s death at the hands of a Prince George’s County, Md. police officer made him the second Black man killed in police custody in less than six months. Most stunning? He was shot to death while handcuffed and unarmed.

The majority Black suburb outside of the District of Columbia is often cited as the richest Black county in the world, but it remains a place where Black men are at risk during encounters with police officers.

“Once again, a Black man has been killed needlessly by officers with the Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD), this time in Temple Hills, Md. Once again, reports indicate that the unarmed man was in a disoriented state when he was shot and killed—after he was handcuffed and put into the patrol car,” said Deborah Jeon, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. The victim was shot to death Jan. 27.

“The police put Mr. Green in the front seat of the patrol car, next to the officer, who then shot Mr. Green multiple times at close range. There is reportedly no body camera footage that the man’s family and the community can use to assess the truth of PGPD’s claims. And there is good reason to question them,” she said.

(L) Relative of Mr. Green speaks at press conference. (R) Family member of Mr. Green at press conference. Mr. Green was shot and killed by Corporal Michael Owen, Jr. of the Prince George’s County Police Department on Jan. 27.

“It was only this past fall, in September 2019, that Leonard Shand, a Black man also apparently in a disoriented state, was shot and killed by PGPD and officers from the Mt. Rainier and Hyattsville Police Departments. In that case, police claimed to have spent nearly 30 minutes containing Mr. Shand and using ‘less than lethal force,’ which is not the same thing as de-escalation. No mental health professional was called to the scene to peacefully de-escalate the situation. Again, officers from PGPD did not wear body cameras.”

Police Chief Hank Stawinski
Mr. Green’s killing happened on a Monday night and by the next day Cpl. Michael Owen’s police chief had him arrested for charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the Green death.

Cpl. Owen’s story of an altercation in the police car with Mr. Green after he was handcuffed did not hold up, said authorities.

Mr. Green was arrested for allegedly driving erratically and hit several cars. He was handcuffed and placed in the front seat of the police squad car because it did not have a partition. This was standard arrest protocol for county police. Officers on the scene suspected he was on drugs and requested the assistance of a drug recognition expert.

What happens next is less clear, but Mr. Green was shot seven times while handcuffed according to the criminal complaint against Cpl. Owen, who is also Black.

“I am unable to come to our community this evening and provide you with a reasonable explanation for the events that occurred,” Prince George’s County Police Chief Henry Stawinski said at a Jan. 30 press conference. “I also want to be clear, there are no circumstances under which this outcome is acceptable and I want to extend my heartfelt sorrow and sympathies to the Green family.”

Corporal Michael Owen, Jr.

The victim’s family was heartbroken. “I am here for my son, William Green,” his mother Brenda Green said during a press conference. “He needs justice because it’s just not right. I love and miss my son. I will not see my son again.”

The family has retained the services of attorney William H. “Billy” Murphy, Jr., a prominent lawyer who represented the family of Freddie Gray, a Black man in Baltimore who died in 2015 as a result of injuries sustained while in police custody. None of the six officers charged in connection with the Gray death were criminally convicted, but the city of Baltimore paid out a $6.4 million settlement to his family.

“It’s a bad day for this family, and we’re here to demand prompt and thorough justice for this family,” Atty. Murphy said during a press conference. “This has to go down as one of the worst incidents in American history and it has shocked the nation.”

Some were wondering why Cpl. Owens was still in uniform after he killed another man in 2011. That shooting is now being reexamined, according to prosecutors.

“This is his third shooting,” Sudan Muhammad, a community activist, who lives in Prince George’s County told The Final Call. “A confidential source in the police department told me that the department was supposed to do something about his 2011 shooting but didn’t. He was supposed to be taken off the force for a psychological evaluation. They are so racist they rather leave him on the force.”

“My community is outraged. All of the Black police have that same self-hatred as that police officer,” she added.

The Prince George’s County police department has a troubled history. Last October Demonte Ward-Blake was beaten by officers during a traffic stop and left paralyzed from the waist down. Once again there were no body cameras operating to document what happened.

“It is completely unacceptable for a police department that is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice— and being sued by its own Black and Latinx police officers for fostering a culture of racism—to still not have body worn cameras equipped on all of their officers, especially given that PG Police Department’s Body Worn Camera program was rolled out in 2017,” said Ms. Jeon.

“It is absolutely senseless for full transparency to not be a number one priority for this department. It should have been a top priority years ago, but these recent tragic events only make this need more urgent.”

“Police departments in Maryland—and across the nation—are built on White supremacy and have a serious problem with targeting and harming people of color, particularly Black people … in Stark, Md., a White man who was reported to be a danger to the community, and who shot hundreds of bullets at Harford County Sheriff’s deputies, was arrested—alive.”

In addition to second-degree murder, Cpl. Owen has been charged with voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, first-degree assault and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence. He was held without bond and put on administrative leave following his arrest.

(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)