2021 | Police & Fire

UPDATED: Police release video of fatal shooting of man, showing attempts to communicate with him

Mother says son was depressed, had suffered losses, was living in his vehicle

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Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones, right, on Tuesday at a press conference where the department shared body camera footage from a July 16 fatal shooting by officers.

Photo by Dan Schere

This story was updated at 8:30 p.m. on July 27, 2021, to include comments from Ryan LeRoux’s mother, activists and elected officials

When a man in an SUV wouldn’t move from a fast-food drive-through lane, Montgomery County police — aware that he had a gun inside — hoped a crisis negotiator could persuade him to get out of the vehicle.

But body-cam video that police released on Tuesday showed movement by the man that prompted officers to shoot and kill him — before the negotiator arrived.

Officers fatally shot the SUV driver — 21-year-old Ryan LeRoux — on July 16 at the McDonald’s on Flower Hill Way.

The Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office, under a reciprocal agreement between the two counties, will examine what happened, reviewing footage and conducting interviews as part of the process.

Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones said Montgomery County would conduct an internal investigation after the conclusion of the Howard County investigation.

The four officers who were involved — Sara Vaughan, Brooks Inman, John Cerny and Romand Schmuck — have been placed on administrative leave. All four fired shots, police spokeswoman Shiera Goff told reporters on Tuesday. The department did not say how many shots were fired.

Police were called at around 9:15 p.m. that night when LeRoux refused to pay for food in the drive-through lane, according to police. An officer who saw a handgun in the passenger seat of LeRoux’s SUV called for backup.

Body-worn camera footage released on Tuesday shows officers communicating over the radio at 10:53 p.m. about a mobile crisis negotiator who was en route.

In one video clip, officers are standing in the parking lot adjacent to the McDonald’s, as LeRoux is in his Honda CRV at the drive -through window.

“They’re gonna call him out of the car. … You two will be arresting,” one officer can be heard saying in the video.

Jones explained to reporters on Tuesday that one officer was going over the plan for how to arrest LeRoux after the negotiator talked him out of the SUV.

Later in the same video, LeRoux starts to move inside the vehicle. At that point, an officer says “he’s up,” and then “eye on the gun,” before multiple shots were fired seconds later.

Another camera that police set up inside the drive-through window shows LeRoux in a reclining position in the driver’s seat. A few seconds after he adjusts the seat and sits up, officers fire shots and an SUV window breaks.

Police on Tuesday released other body camera footage from the shooting, including from Inman, the first to arrive. In the video, Inman gives multiple commands to LeRoux.

“Keep your f—ing hands up. Unlock the door with your left hand. Can you unlock the door with your left hand slowly,” Inman says.

Police also released audio from a phone call between LeRoux and an emergency dispatcher.

In the call, the dispatcher asks LeRoux to follow officers’ commands and put his hands out the window, so officers can see them.

LeRoux answers that his hands are already up. Several times, the dispatcher repeats her request to have LeRoux put his hands through the window.

“I’m trying to make sure we’re all on the same page. I’m just trying to help you,” she says.

Jones said Tuesday that LeRoux did not comply with the commands to put his hands out the window.

Later, a police captain tried to patch into the call between LeRoux and the dispatcher, but the connection was not successful, Jones said. A police sergeant also tried to communicate with LeRoux directly by phone, but LeRoux hung up.

After the 45-minute press conference, Jones did not take questions from reporters.

Police released 28 minutes of body camera footage on Tuesday, shortly after the press conference, where some of the footage was shown.

The July 16 shooting is the fourth time this year that a law enforcement officer has fatally shot someone in Montgomery County.

In one case, an off-duty Pentagon officer was charged with murder after allegedly shooting two men in Takoma Park.

Additionally, a Montgomery County sheriff’s deputy was cleared of wrongdoing after shooting and killing a man who attacked him in February with a large tree branch.

A shooting in which at least one Gaithersburg police officer shot and killed 24-year-old Kwamena Ocran following a confrontation with four plainclothes officers remains under investigation.

Mother says crisis intervention response was inadequate

After officers shot LeRoux, additional footage shows them removing the gun from the vehicle, which police said was on his lap at that point. A bottle of alcohol and an empty water bottle can be seen on the passenger seat in the clip.

Rhonda LeRoux, Ryan’s mother, said during a press conference later on Tuesday that her son had been suffering from depression. He had recently been drinking and experimenting with marijuana, she said.

“He wanted to be independent. He had lost his job. He had suffered a broken relationship with his long-term girlfriend. And just recently, last month, I lost my mother, his grandmother, who he was very close to,” she said.

Rhonda LeRoux, Ryan’s mother, speaks during a press conference on Tuesday. Photo by Dan Schere.

Rhonda LeRoux said her son had been living out of his vehicle and felt that he needed to buy a handgun for protection. She questioned a previous assertion by the police department that they spent 30 minutes trying to de-escalate the situation.

“If this is true, then why wasn’t there a crisis response with a trained mental health specialist on the scene?” she said. “Ryan was sitting in his car for over an hour. Clearly, the Montgomery County police failed to de-escalate the situation.”

Rhonda LeRoux added that Jones has never told their family that their son was holding or pointing the gun.

Carlean Ponder, a member of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition, called the police department’s handling of the situation an “old use-of-force response,” noting that a recent audit from the county recommended better de-escalation training for officers.

“In this case, the officers said that they were able to see a gun on the passenger seat,” she said. “We understand that these are police officers. We understand that they encounter dangerous situations, but they’re encountering members of the community.

“Members of the community who may have substance abuse issues, who may have mental illness issues, who may be experiencing homelessness, who may have cognitive disabilities, who may have other issues that do not put them in a position where they [can] respond rapidly to commands from officers shouting at them.”

Ponder called on Jones to resign if he can’t implement the changes to the department recommended in the audit.

Elected officials react

County Executive Marc Elrich said in a statement Tuesday evening that he is “trying to understand how an incident that began calmly turned violent so suddenly.” He said he wants to find ways of “minimizing situations where officers must make split-second life-or-death decisions.”

“We need a careful review of how this outcome might have been averted. My concern is that even if an event is deemed justifiable in that moment, it may not have been inevitable,” he said in the statement.

Elrich said the county will work with the nonprofit Effective Law Enforcement for All to conduct an “after-action review” of fatal use-of-force incidents by police, including the shooting of LeRoux. The reviews will provide additional policy recommendations and trainings, he said.

“This will not be a separate investigation into this incident, but a set of “case studies” in how we respond to these situations and whether our tactics and procedures before, during, and after incidents can be improved,” he said.

In a separate statement, the County Council said it “has long advocated for appropriate alternative responses to mental health crises and has added funds to the budget two years in a row to expand the County’s Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams.

“We must work to ensure that behavioral health professionals, with their specialized skill set, are readily available and on call for any potential crisis that arises.”

During Tuesday’s press conference with activists, state Del. Gabriel Acevero, a Democrat who represents parts of northern Montgomery County, called on Elrich to end the county’s memorandum of understanding with Howard County in reviewing fatal shootings by officers.

“We elected people in this county not only to pursue accountability through the state’s attorney’s office, but ensure we have answers by way of our council members and our county executive. That has to happen in this case,” he said.

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