2019 | Police & Fire

Independent Investigations of Officer-Involved Deaths Sought By Councilman

Bill to be introduced seven months after the shooting of Robert White

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Police investigate the scene at the Silver Spring townhome of Robert White last summer

Jana Owens

County legislation that would require an independent investigation following a police officer-involved death is scheduled to be considered by the County Council.

The bill, expected to be introduced by at-large councilmember Will Jawando Tuesday, comes seven months after the June 11 death of Robert Lawrence White, an unarmed black man who was fatally shot while walking through his Silver Spring neighborhood.

Anand Badgujar, the officer who shot White, a two-year veteran of the Montgomery County Police Department, was put on paid administrative leave and later cleared by the Howard County State’s Attorney a month and a half later.

Badgujar has returned to the force, according to an email Monday from police spokesman C. Thomas Jordan.

Montgomery County Police conducted an internal investigation of the shooting and forwarded the information to Howard County prosecutors, who have an agreement with their counterparts in Montgomery to review police department cases.

In an interview Monday, Jawando said that the Howard-Montgomery agreement is a positive step toward impartiality in investigating officer-involved shootings, and would not change as a result of his bill. But an investigation should be done by law enforcement agency other than Montgomery’s.

In some cases, an outside agency could be the FBI or Department of Justice, he said. In others, he said a neighboring jurisdiction’s police department would be appropriate.

“Even if you have a great police department like we do, you want to remove bias, and also remove the perception of bias,” he said. “You’re never gonna fully be able to separate completely [from Montgomery County], but this allows a level of distance and separation that gives the public increased confidence.”

Jawando’s bill would also require that the state’s attorney’s office that is handling the case submit a public report that details the findings of the investigation, in the event that criminal charges are not pursued. In the case of Badgujar, no explanation was given as to why criminal charges weren’t brought, he noted.

“There should be a basic outline of what they found. If they decided not to pursue charges, we should know why,” Jawando said.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy and Howard County State’s Attorney Dario Broccolino forged a reciprocal agreement in the summer of 2015, which gave one county’s office the power to investigate the actions of the other county’s police department in cases involving the use of force, according to Montgomery state’s attorney spokesman Ramon Korionoff.

“Our office took the proactive and progressive step of assuring the public that we would have transparency and fairness in our process long before this bill was conceived,” Korionoff wrote in a Monday email.

Korionoff added that the agreement came as a result of a set of guidelines on policing released by former President Barack Obama’s Task Torce of 21st Century Policing, which recommended that police departments commission independent investigations for officer-involved shootings.

Jordan wrote that the department has not commissioned an independent review of a police-involved shooting at “any other time in recent memory.” Before to the Montgomery-Howard agreement, Montgomery’s state’s attorney’s office reviewed these cases and presented them before a grand jury.

In a Jan. 10 memo to council members, Jawando wrote that White’s death was the impetus behind his bill, appearing to take issue with the fact that the county police conducted an investigation about one of its own officers.

“Generally, MCPD officers conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism; however, when the same department investigates an officer involved death for one of its own officers, it creates an opportunity for bias,” he wrote. “Independent investigations will help eliminate the perception of bias that may exist in these types of cases,” he wrote.

Jawando called White’s death a “tragedy” and said it has been compounded with questions from the community about “what happened and why it happened.” He doesn’t intend to relitigate the White case, he said, but hopes his bill helps mend community-police relations.

“You only need to look at the last couple of years across the country to see that these cases have created a movement. I think that’s the conversation. Our police department is a great police department… whether or not there was liability or not… it’s important that the community have confidence in the independent investigation,” he said.

Council member Hans Riemer (at-large) is co-sponsoring the bill, and wrote in an email Monday morning that the goal is to “promote public confidence” in future investigations of officer-involved deaths.

Jawando noted that Illinois, Utah and Wisconsin currently require an outside agency to conduct an investigation of officer-involved shootings.

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