Nonprofit sues for body camera footage of March fatal shooting by police

Nonprofit sues for body camera footage of March fatal shooting by police

Judicial Watch says county did not respond to its public records request in June

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The nonprofit Judicial Watch is suing the Montgomery County Police Department to get body camera footage from the fatal officer-involved shooting of Duncan Socrates Lemp on March 12

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A nonprofit group is suing the Montgomery County Police Department to get body camera footage from a fatal officer-involved shooting in Potomac earlier this year.

Judicial Watch, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based organization, filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court last month. It is seeking the video of the shooting of Duncan Socrates Lemp, 21, who police shot and killed March 12 during a raid on his family’s home.

The Lemp family and police have given different accounts of what happened.

Police said a SWAT team went to the family home in 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.

Police, in their statement, have said “Lemp was found to be in possession of a rifle” in the bedroom, but have not explained further.

Police have said that Lemp could not legally have a firearm until age 30 because of his criminal history as a juvenile.

Police have said they used a “no-knock warrant” to enter Lemp’s home, but announced their presence and gave a reason why they were there. However, Lemp did not obey orders to show his hands and get on the ground, instead walking toward his bedroom, where other officers were, according to police.

They said an officer shot Lemp and was placed on administrative leave.

In a statement on March 17, Lemp’s family disputed the police account, stating that officers “initiated gunfire and flash bangs” through Lemp’s bedroom window in the front of the house while he was asleep.

His family’s statement said police never gave verbal commands, according to eyewitnesses at the scene.

In Judicial Watch’s lawsuit, filed on July 24, attorneys Paul Orfanedes and Eric Lee wrote that the organization filed a request under Maryland’s Public Information Act on June 18 for “a copy of all body-worn camera videos” related to the raid on Lemp’s home and his death. Court documents state that police confirmed that they received the PIA request the same day, but did not communicate with Judicial Watch after that.

Judicial Watch states in its complaint that by withholding the body camera footage, the police department is violating the Public Information Act and causing “irreparable harm.”

According to state court records, the discovery phase of the suit is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 17.

Rene Sandler, an attorney representing the Lemp family, told Bethesda Beat on Thursday that the family supports Judicial Watch’s lawsuit, but has no involvement in it.

“We appreciate the intervention of Judicial Watch in pursuing what we have been seeking since March 12. We’re hopeful that the county will finally provide this important evidence,” she said.

Sandler added that the county attorney’s office has not been responsive to further requests for information about the shooting. She said the family is “considering its options,” which could include filing a lawsuit against the county.

Since March, police have not released additional information about the shooting, which the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office is investigating. Howard and Montgomery counties have a reciprocal agreement, in which an officer-involved shooting that leads to injury or death in one county is reviewed by the state’s attorney’s office in the other county.

Yolanda Vazquez, a spokeswoman for the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Thursday that the investigation is “moving along,” but there has been “no final determination.”

A Montgomery County police spokesperson could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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

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