Group seeks ruling in lawsuit to release body-camera footage of shooting

Group seeks ruling in lawsuit to release body-camera footage of shooting

Montgomery County police killed Potomac man during raid on his home

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A conservative nonprofit group that sued to get body-camera footage showing police killing a man in Potomac is seeking a ruling without a full trial.

A hearing is scheduled for early December on Judicial Watch’s request for summary judgment in its lawsuit, meaning the judge would rule based on the facts already presented.

The group sued this summer to get the footage of a raid by Montgomery County police in which an officer shot and killed Duncan Socrates Lemp, 21.

The shooting happened on March 12 during a raid on Lemp’s family home in Potomac. The officer has not been identified.

Police have said a SWAT team went to the home on the 12200 block of St. James Road around 4:30 a.m. on March 12 to serve a “high-risk” search warrant for illegal firearm possession charges, because he was not allowed to own a firearm legally until age 30 based on his criminal history.

Police have said that consistent with their practice, they used a “no-knock warrant” to enter Lemp’s home, but announced their presence and their reason for being there.

Police have said Lemp ignored orders to get on the ground and show his hands.

The officer who shot Lemp was placed on administrative leave while the shooting was reviewed.

Police have not given additional details since March 17.

The Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office is supposed to review what happened as part of a reciprocal agreement the two counties have when a police officer shoots someone. As of August, the office had not concluded its investigation.

The Lemp family has disputed portions of the police’s account, stating that officers “initiated gunfire and flash bangs” through Lemp’s bedroom window while he was sleeping. The family has also said that police never gave verbal commands to Duncan Lemp.

In July, the conservative Washington, D.C.-based organization Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit demanding that police turn over all body-worn camera video of the shooting and the raid on the Lemp home. The Montgomery County Police Department is named as the defendant in the suit.

On Sept. 18, according to Maryland court records, the county filed a motion to dismiss the suit. Judicial Watch responded on Oct. 5 with a cross-motion for summary judgment and a request for a hearing.

In court documents, Judicial Watch attorney Eric Lee wrote that the “release of objective and factual video recordings” of the Lemp shooting will help clear up confusion about the conflicting accounts of what happened.

“It also would, in defendant’s own words, ‘eliminate speculation and address unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct which frequently occur.’ These precise issues have arisen with respect to the fatal shooting of Mr. Lemp nearly seven months ago,” Lee wrote.

Lee wrote that police released body camera footage from the shooting of Finan Berhe by a Montgomery County police officer on May 7, while an investigation was ongoing. (The officer who shot Berhe was cleared this month by the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office.)

Lee wrote that footage was released in the Berhe shooting because it was in the public interest.

“Releasing the footage answered important questions about the factual circumstances leading up to Mr. Berhe’s shooting and the perspective and conduct of the officer involved,” Lee wrote. “It did not contravene the public interest. It also likely did not prejudice the investigation into Mr. Berhe’s death.”

Lee added that there haven’t been any “claims or reports” that the Berhe investigation was jeopardized. However, some social justice groups in the county and some lawmakers have criticized the outcome of the investigation in that case.

According to state court records, a hearing in the Lemp case is scheduled for Dec. 2 in Circuit Court.

Associate Montgomery County Attorney Haley Roberts, who is representing the county, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Lemp family attorney Rene Sandler told Bethesda Beat in August that the family is not involved in the suit, but supports it. Sandler could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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