The father of a Gaithersburg man who was fatally shot by four Montgomery County police officers this summer said on Sunday that he is considering suing the department.
The officers shot and killed Ryan LeRoux, 21, on July 16 following a standoff of more than 90 minutes at a McDonald’s drive-through on Flower Hill Way.
Police released portions of body-worn camera footage two weeks after the shooting, which is under investigation by the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office. The family and social justice advocates have criticized the department’s transparency about the shooting and think more de-escalation tactics could have been used.
The four officers who fired shots — Sara Vaughan, Brooks Inman, John Cerny and Romand Schmuck — have been placed on administrative leave. The shooting remains under investigation by Howard County, under a reciprocal agreement with Montgomery County in which one state’s attorney’s office investigates the use of force by law enforcement that leads to a death in the other county.
Paul LeRoux, Ryan’s father, told Bethesda Beat following a protest in Gaithersburg on Sunday that the family has retained a Baltimore attorney. If the family sues, it will be after the criminal investigation concludes, he said.
“It would seem appropriate to allow Howard County to finish their process and for us to get access to some of the evidence, as well,” he said.
County police were called to the McDonald’s around 9:15 p.m. on July 16 after getting a call that LeRoux refused to pay for food in the drive-through lane and had parked there. When an officer saw a handgun in the passenger seat of LeRoux’s SUV, they called for backup.
Body-camera footage released July 27 shows officers at the scene and an emergency dispatcher telling LeRoux over the radio to put his hands out the window. LeRoux can be heard telling the dispatcher that his hands are up.
In the video, officers can be heard discussing attempts to reach LeRoux to de-escalate the situation, but to no avail. Additionally, police can be heard on the radio saying that a mobile crisis negotiator is on the way to scene, but the officers shot LeRoux before they arrived.
The officers fired at LeRoux after they saw him adjust his seat from a reclining position and suddenly sit up, according to the video. It is not clear whether LeRoux was holding the gun at the time.
Police have said the handgun was on the passenger’s seat of LeRoux’s vehicle during most of the standoff, but it was in his lap after they shot him and removed it from the vehicle.
LeRoux’s mother, Rhonda, has said that Police Chief Marcus Jones has never said whether LeRoux was holding or pointing the gun that night.
LeRoux’s mother said during a July protest that her son was depressed at the time of the killing, having just broken up with his girlfriend and experienced the death of his grandmother. Additionally, Ryan had been living out of his vehicle and bought the handgun for protection, she said at the time.
About 20 people gathered in Johnson’s Local Park on Washington Grove Lane Sunday to protest LeRoux’s death and call on police to change their approach to dealing with mental health calls. Signs featured messages such as “Justice 4 Ryan” and “Replace the Police Chief Marcus Jones! Hold Montgomery County Police Accountable!”
Bob Veiga, the co-chair of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition, said at the rally that he is concerned about the number of times Montgomery County officers have fatally shot people, only to have the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office exonerate them.
“Just because somebody’s justified doesn’t mean they’re not a murderer, doesn’t mean they did not commit a crime,” he said.
One woman who didn’t identify herself said officers who shoot and kill people when responding to mental health crises need to be held accountable for their actions. She said she suffered from anxiety and depression as a teenager and often had suicidal thoughts. Once, the police were called her when she was going through a crisis.
“The one thing that is not helpful when you are dealing with something like this is someone with a badge yelling at you to be compliant, when all you are is just sad or depressed,” she said.
Sunday’s speakers also included Steven Watson, the father of 34-year-old George Watson, who was shot and killed by a D.C. police officer outside his apartment Aug. 31. The officer who shot Watson said over the radio at the time that he was “definitely a mental health consumer,” DCist reported.
Watson said shootings such as those in which his son and LeRoux were killed are becoming too common.
“If the police don’t know how to handle the situation, they need to turn it over to someone who does and not resort to violence,” he said.
Paul LeRoux told Bethesda Beat on Sunday that no one from the police department contacted the family during the standoff.
“That’s where a crisis intervention team would have. They would have gotten on the phone, found who the father was. I would have gotten on the phone in the middle of the night and I could have called my son or texted him,” he said.
The father said the right approach would have been for the officers to back off.
“For four officers to supposedly all at the same time feel threatened by my son, that has not shot a gun. He just has a gun in the car with him. … There’s no reason where it needed to escalate where they’re all ready to pull the trigger,” he said.
A Montgomery County police spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email from Bethesda Beat seeking comment Monday.
There have been three other fatal shootings by law enforcement officers in Montgomery County this year.
- Off-duty Pentagon Officer David Hall Dixon shot and killed Dominque Williams, 32, and 38-year-old James Lionel Johnson in the parking lot of a Takoma Park condominium building. Dixon has said he confronted people trying to break into a vehicle, but surveillance footage shows him firing shots from behind a car as it drove away. Dixon has been indicted on murder and attempted murder charges.
- Frank Pruitt of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office shot and killed 52-year-old Kevin Costlow in February after Costlow attacked him with a large tree branch on Olney Laytonsville Road. Pruitt was cleared of wrongdoing in June by the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office.
- In January, four plain clothes Gaithersburg officers shot and killed Kwamena Ocran, 24, on South Frederick Road. Police said the officers reported that Ocran fired a gun in their direction while they were chasing him, and all four officers fired back. Howard County’s State’s Attorney’s Office declined to charge the four officers earlier this month.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org