The Silver Spring Civic Center was held open late on Tuesday night as community members demanded answers from public officials in the shooting death of Robert White by a Montgomery County Police officer earlier this year.
For more than 2 1/2 hours, public officials and community members posed questions to State’s Attorney John McCarthy, Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger and Raymond Crowel, chief of behavioral health and crisis services for Montgomery County.
“I’m here because I care about the trust and confidence that the police and community should share. I know when we have incidents like this that trust and confidence is tested,” Manger said in opening remarks.
Robert Lawrence White, 41, was fatally shot during a June 11 encounter with Montgomery County police officer Anand Badgujar in a Silver Spring townhome community. White had been walking through the Three Oaks Drive neighborhood, which was about a mile from his home, when Badgujar began investigating him as a suspicious person. The interaction between the two men escalated over the course of several minutes, until White charged Badgujar and knocked him to the ground, according to body-camera footage released by police. Badgujar fired multiple rounds at White as he was being assaulted, the video shows.
Howard County prosecutors, who reviewed the case through an ongoing inter-county agreement, have concluded that no charges should be filed against Badgujar, but some members of the community have expressed outrage at the deadly shooting of an unarmed black man.
The meeting was characterized by testy exchanges, at times. Many of those who came to speak or ask questions on Tuesday night lived in White’s neighborhood and considered him a friend.
The meeting was organized by the Silver Spring Justice Coalition and hosted by members of the District 20 General Assembly delegation.
Del. Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Silver Spring) said she wants to know more about the memorandum of understanding between the Montgomery County and Howard County state’s attorney’s offices and thinks the policy should be reconsidered. Wilkins said the publicly released report from Howard County State’s Attorney Dario Broccolino was sorely lacking in detail and transparency.
McCarthy defended the outsourcing of the reviews as a nationally recognized best practice to avoid conflicts between county prosecutors and county police officers who work together every day. But some members of the crowd said there’s no way for county residents or voters to hold a state’s attorney from another jurisdiction accountable at the ballot box.
McCarthy is running unopposed for his fourth term in November. A new state’s attorney will be chosen by Howard County voters in November. McCarthy said once that person takes office, the agreement would have to be reconsidered and possibly renewed under different terms.
Wilkins said she wants more public accountability in the process.
A recurring question over the course of the night was about the police department’s body camera procedures. The White shooting is the first in which the department has released body camera footage of a deadly police shooting.
“I saw the body cam footage and the incident seems to start in the thick of things,” Del. David Moon (D-Takoma Park) said. “Have we seen everything? Did the officer follow proper procedures?”
Manger said the department’s policy is for officers to turn on their cameras when they initiate a stop. The chief said that happened in this case.
Fahad Siddiqui, a friend and neighbor of Whites, said he doesn’t believe that’s what happened. The officer is away from his police cruiser and in the middle of an interaction with White when the footage first begins, Siddiqui said.
Moon said he would also like to see the Montgomery County police consider a new policy about foot pursuits.
After officers in Sacramento, California, shot and killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, the department adopted new policies to limit foot chases in risky situations. Under the new policy, implemented this month, officers will be asked to weigh their own safety, the safety of the public and the importance of apprehending the person before and during a pursuit.
Manger said Montgomery County Police has a policy in place for calling off vehicular pursuits. Moon said he will seek changes to pursuits on foot.
Manger said many of the questions posed by residents and officials on Tuesday—particularly why Badgujar pursued White in the first place, and questions about things he said, including calling White “bro” and “big man”—will be asked during the internal investigation. But much of what is explored during that investigation will not become public.
Under Maryland law, police internal investigations are personnel documents not subject to public release, even if a finding of fault is reached.
Manger said basic information will be released publicly and the department will also reach out to the complainant in the case, members of White’s family.
Members of the community asked whether the Howard County prosecutor’s decision precludes any criminal charges if new information comes to light during the internal affairs investigation. McCarthy said, constitutionally, charges are still possible.
Community members also shared concerns about systemic racism, the availability of treatment for mental illnesses, police training, de-escalation policies and use of force procedures. State Senator Will Smith (D-Silver Spring) said more meetings are planned to continue discussing the issues.
Wilkins said she keeps coming back to one thing:
“We have someone, who was a neighbor, who was a constituent, Robert White, he was walking in his neighborhood, like he does often, and now he is dead,” she said.
Bethany Rodgers contributed to this report.