2020 | Police & Fire

UPDATED: Police officer who fatally shot man in Potomac won’t be charged

Howard County concluded officer’s actions were reasonable; family ‘incredibly disappointed’

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This story was updated at 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2020 to add details from the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office’s investigation of the shooting, and comments from an attorney representing the Lemp family

A Montgomery County police officer who shot a man in Potomac in March during a raid on his family’s home will not be charged, according to a report from the Howard County State’s Attorney’s office.

The report, which the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office released Thursday, says the man — 21-year-old Duncan Socrates Lemp — pointed a rifle at the officer during the raid. Thinking Lemp would kill him, the officer shot Lemp, killing him, according to the report which offers many new details beyond what police have publicly shared.

Howard County prosecutors who reviewed the case say the officer’s response and actions were “reasonable under the circumstances.”

Montgomery County SWAT team officers went to Lemp’s home in the 12200 block of St. James Road around 4:30 a.m. on March 12.

Police said at the time that officers were serving a “high-risk” warrant for illegal firearm possession charges. Lemp wasn’t allowed to own a firearm until he was 30 based on his criminal history.

Police used a “no-knock” warrant to enter the Lemp home, but said they announced why they were there. Police said Lemp ignored orders to get on the ground and show his hands. An officer shot Lemp.

Police have not released the identity of the officer, who was placed on administrative leave.

Lemp’s family has disputed the police’s version of events, stating on March 17 that officers “initiated gunfire and flash bangs” through Lemp’s bedroom window while he was sleeping. The family has said police never gave verbal commands, according to eyewitnesses.

Lemp family attorney Rene Sandler said in an interview on Thursday that the Lemp family is still grieving at what has been an “incredibly tragic set of circumstances.”

“The family is incredibly disappointed in the outcome, that no one will be held accountable for the death of Duncan,” she said.

Sandler called the report “incredibly one-sided.”

Police investigate alleged ties to militant organization

According to the Howard County investigation report, police received a confidential tip about Lemp in February, noting that he had profiles on Instagram and the far-right website mymilitia.com.

The “confidential source” told police that Lemp was part of what authorities have described as a far-right militia movement called the Three Percenters that focuses on gun ownership. The group disputes that characterization, saying it is not a militia and supports the government as long it follows the Constitution and doesn’t overstep its authority.

Police said they found multiple postings on Instagram that showed Lemp with different guns, including a type of assault rifle banned in Maryland. Police also said Lemp made “antipolice” statements and had a bulletproof vest, according to the report.

Police said they also learned that Lemp might have been selling “ghost guns” — guns missing serial numbers that are often are sold as kits, which owners then use to assemble the weapons. Background checks aren’t generally required to buy these guns.

Police said they were granted the no-knock search and seizure warrant on March 11, because Lemp was “anti-government, anti-police, currently in possession of body armor and an active member of the Three Percenters.”

“Additionally, police had viewed several videos showing Lemp handling and shooting firearms. The police felt that knocking and announcing their presence would put the officers in serious danger if Lemp decided to resist his arrest,” prosecutors wrote in the report.

The raid

SWAT officers executed the warrant around 4:30 a.m. on March 12, with the plan to “dual-breach” the house.

Two officers were supposed to break the window of Lemp’s bedroom, which was in the garage attached to the house, an operation called a “break and rake.” The other officers were supposed to use a battering ram — a large beam — to break down the front door.

One officer told prosecutors that at 4:42 a.m., an officer used a pike tool — a metal-topped pole — to break the window of the bedroom where Lemp was sleeping with his girlfriend, Kasey Robinson.

Police said that after officers broke the window and pulled the shades away, one unarmed officer ducked below the window line, while the other, who had a rifle, looked inside to find Lemp and try to prevent him from getting weapons.

The officer who later shot Lemp told prosecutors that he yelled “police, show me your hands” repeatedly. The officer said Robinson started screaming and got into the bed. Lemp never raised his hands and disobeyed all commands, the officer said.

The officer said Lemp then picked up a rifle, to which the officer thinks he responded “don’t do it.” Lemp then raised the rifle with the muzzle pointed at the officer, he said. The officer said he then shot Lemp, thinking that Lemp would kill him.

While the dual-breach was happening, other SWAT officers deployed “flashbangs” outside the home to “disorient the senses of the occupants of the house as to what was happening.”

The officers who went into the home told prosecutors that they told the family “multiple times” that they had a warrant. According to the report, officers heard gunshots through the glass doors separating Lemp’s room from the rest of the house.

“Because something was blocking the door, an officer tossed a flashbang into the bedroom through the narrow opening of the French doors hoping that might assist the officers into getting in the room quicker,” the report stated. “Ultimately, the doors were broken down enough for the officers to get into the bedroom.”

Police later determined that when Lemp was shot, his body fell against the door, blocking it. Police said that when they found Lemp, he was unresponsive and Robinson was next to him screaming. Paramedics tried to treat Lemp, but he died at the scene.

Police said they found a rifle in Lemp’s room, as well as a booby trap designed to ignite a shotgun shell if the door were opened.

Police said they later recovered multiple items, including:

  • Three rifles and two “ghost guns,” some of which were loaded
  • Multiple magazines
  • A gun silencer
  • Multiple booby traps
  • Boxes of live ammunition and body armor
  • A 3D printer
  • Parts for the “ghost guns”
  • Laptops, smartphones and a tablet

Preparing for a raid

Police seized Lemp’s cellphone after the raid, in which they found a text message exchange between him and his mother from Nov. 19, 2019, in which he tells her that he needs a stronger door in case the police try to take his guns away.

“Warning? Do you know what a no-knock warrant is? A red flag law?,” he wrote in one text message. We’re one angry phone call away from a swat teams only warning being the first battering ram hit, you can research yourself or you can not duplicate my work and just buy a door like I’m saying.”

Toward the end of the exchange, Lemp’s mother wrote that she doesn’t “want to live feeling like we need a stronger door”

“…. that is not chill and causes me stress and anxiety that keeps me up at night and literally makes me physically sick,” she wrote.

In another exchange from Dec. 11, 2019, Lemp’s mother tells her son that he owes her almost $900 for body armor.

“You are going overboard with this stuff love and I’m honestly worried about you and us. You’re behaving in a manic way,” she wrote. “One or 2 things might be understandable but you keep buying more and more things you will never use. If you were to ever use, would be the destruction of you and everyone around you.”

Prosecutors also mentioned in their report that there had been a SWAT raid on the Lemp home in 2016, but did not explain what happened.

A disputed account

The Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office reviewed the shooting, based on a reciprocal agreement with Montgomery County, in which one county reviews any case in which an officer in the other county shoots someone, resulting in injury or death.

The Howard County office wrote that “based upon a thorough review of all information known at this time,” the officer’s actions were “reasonable under the circumstances.”

“The threat caused by Duncan Lemp retrieving a rifle and pointing it at the officer, coupled with Lemp’s apparent refusal to obey lawful commands, justified the shooting officer’s use of deadly force,” the report stated.

Additionally, Howard County prosecutors said that when Robinson was interviewed, she told them that she thought officers fired into the bedroom and then threw a “flash grenade” inside. But the report states that the evidence shows that no shots were fired through the glass.

“While Robinson may have been under the belief that this was caused by bullets, the evidence showed that was not the case. When reviewing the crime scene photos, it was clear that the shades covering the smashed window had no holes,” prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors went on to say that Robinson likely heard the “break and rake” and “may have been confused” about what happened when she woke up.

But Sandler said Thursday’s report is “incredibly one-sided,” and does not include all grand jury testimony. She called on Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy to release the entirety of the grand jury transcripts.

“So we have requested that the state’s attorney join us in obtaining the entirety of the grand jury transcripts for transparency purposes and completeness, and be released to the public, so that the public can make its own determination as to the facts and the ultimate conclusions,” she said.

When asked which portions of the grand jury testimony were excluded, she said she is prohibited by law from commenting.

Further legal action is possible, Sandler said, if McCarthy doesn’t comply with the family’s request.

“We’ll seek an order of the court for the disclosure of the entirety of the information. Because at this time, we don’t know if prosecutors even sought charges against any officer, or what was asked of the grand jury,” she said.

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