This story was updated at 10:50 p.m. on June 28, 2021, to include additional details from the investigation by the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office
The Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office has found that a Montgomery County deputy sheriff who fatally shot a man who attacked him with a large tree branch did nothing wrong.
Sgt. Frank Pruitt of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office fatally shot Kevin Costlow, 52, of Laytonsville on Feb. 6. Costlow was seen driving erratically, then tried to attack multiple people, according to the sheriff’s office.
Costlow was driving on Olney Laytonsville Road (Md. 108) when he almost crashed into one car, then front-ended another, Sheriff Darren Popkin said at the time. Costlow then used a large tree branch to attack people in the car he had hit, Popkin said.
Pruitt, an 18-year-veteran, was on his way to work, saw what happened and got out of his vehicle. Costlow then attacked Pruitt with the branch, hitting Pruitt around his head and neck.
Pruitt repeatedly tried to get Costlow to stop his attack. When he did not, Pruitt shot Costlow, who died at the scene.
Witnesses describe Costlow’s erratic behavior
The incident was captured on video by bystanders. According to a report from the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office collected multiple interviews that Montgomery County police conducted with witnesses at the scene, including the drivers who crashed before Costlow’s altercation with Pruitt.
Cidicley Da Silva Araujo told detectives that he was driving north on Md. 108 when he saw Costlow driving his silver Volkswagen. The Volkswagen was coming toward Araujo quickly and had crossed the double yellow line, he told detectives. To avoid being hit, Araujo swerved and hit a utility pole.
Later, Araujo got out of his vehicle and Costlow came at him with the branch, Araujo told police. Costlow allegedly said “what do you want?” before Araujo ran back to his car.
Sejal Patel told detectives that she was driving on Md. 108 and was crossing through the intersection with Fieldcrest Road when she saw Costlow driving toward her in the wrong lane. His vehicle hit hers head on, she told police.
Other witnesses described seeing Costlow behaving erratically — trying to fight other motorists, shouting at them or harassing them in other ways.
Paul Lennon told authorities that he was stopped at the intersection of Md. 108 and Fieldcrest Road when Costlow got out of his vehicle, ran while cursing at him and got into Lennon’s vehicle. Lennon told police that he pulled Costlow out of his vehicle, “tried to shake some sense into him” and drove off.
Deputy said he tried Taser first
Pruitt told detectives in an interview that that when he got to the scene, he asked Costlow if he needed help. Costlow ran at Pruitt with a rosary in his hand and screamed about prayer.
Pruitt later pulled out his Taser after Costlow threw a manila envelope at him, he told detectives. As the altercation escalated, Costlow started swinging the branch at Pruitt and hitting him, he told detectives. When Pruitt tried to deploy the Taser, he saw wires hanging out “as if it had already been used,” he told police.
Pruitt gave multiple commands to Costlow to drop the branch and get on the ground before taking out his gun, he told detectives. Eventually, Costlow raised the branch with two hands and swung at Pruitt’s head, breaking it in two.
The deputy then fired two shots at Costlow, and the man continued toward him, he told detectives. Pruitt continued firing, and Costlow fell to the ground after the 12th shot. When backup arrived, other officers and Pruitt tried to save Costlow’s life.
Pruitt told detectives that he tried to activate his body-worn camera system, but it never activated and he did not record the shooting.
Costlow’s family says he was not well
Police also interviewed multiple members of Costlow’s family, who said Kevin had recently been in a car crash prior to Feb. 6. His brother Steve told detectives that Kevin had suffered a “psychotic break” and was taking medication due to a previous neck injury.
Steve Costlow told detectives that at 2 a.m. on Feb. 6, Kevin’s wife, Vera, had come over to Steve’s house to tell him that Kevin was on the floor screaming and said he was hearing voices. She told Steve that she was afraid for her safety, Steve told police.
Vera Costlow told detectives that her husband had been very upset since the car crash and would make nonsensical remarks, such as calling her “the devil” and calling himself “Jesus Christ.”
Vera also told their next-door neighbors she was worried about her husband’s recent behavior.
Howard County reviews shooting
The Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office reviewed the shooting as part of a reciprocal agreement between the two counties. The state’s attorney’s office in one county investigates any time an officer in the other county shoots someone.
According to the report, the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office determined that the branch Costlow swung was at least two inches thick, and Costlow “swings it hard enough to break on contact with Pruitt’s body multiple times.”
“Throughout the videos, Pruitt’s behavior is defensive in nature. He is constantly retreating as Costlow attempts to fight him,” the report states. “Even as Costlow strikes him multiple times with the stick, Pruitt’s initial reaction was to block the strikes with his arms despite holding his service weapon at the time.”
The report also determined that Pruitt gave Costlow multiple commands to get on the ground, and that the deputy tried to de-escalate the situation before shooting.
The report states that an officer firing 12 shots could “be viewed as excessive” in some cases, but that the bystander video shows that Costlow did not stop rushing toward Pruitt until he fired the last shot.
Howard County officials ultimately determined that Pruitt shot Costlow to protect himself from being seriously injured and potentially from losing control of his service weapon.
“The threat caused by Kevin Costlow repeatedly swinging at and striking Deputy Pruitt with a large stick coupled with his refusal to obey the numerous commands given by Pruitt, in addition to the potential risk the deputy could have been disarmed resulting in his service weapon being used against him or any other person in the vicinity, justified the use of deadly force,” the report states.
There have been three times in Montgomery County this year in which a law enforcement officer fatally shot someone, including the Feb. 6 shooting.
On Jan. 8, at least one Gaithersburg police officer shot and killed 24-year-old Kwamena Ocran after a confrontation with four plainclothes officers. The shooting remains under investigation by Howard County officials.
On April 7, off-duty Pentagon officer David Hall Dixon fatally shot two men in the parking lot of a Takoma Park condominium building. Dixon has been indicted on charges of murder and attempted murder.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org