2021 | Police & Fire

UPDATED: Police still saying little about Friday’s fatal shooting by officers

Confrontation happened at a McDonald's in Gaithersburg

share this

Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones speaks to media about an incident Friday outside a McDonald's in Gaithersburg, where police fatally shot 21-year-old Ryan Leroux.

Photo by Caitlynn Peetz

This story was updated at 6:45 p.m. July 19, 2021, with comments from the Silver Spring Justice Coalition and at 7:25 p.m. with background about the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force and a statement by County Executive Marc Elrich. It was updated again at 8:35 p.m. to clarify details the Silver Spring Justice Coalition was calling for. 

Montgomery County police released few details on Monday about a confrontation in which officers shot and killed a man in his SUV at a McDonald’s in Gaithersburg on Friday night.

The man who police shot was Ryan Leroux, 21, of Gaithersburg. He died at an area hospital.

Police said they were called to the McDonald’s on Flower Hill Way at about 9:15 p.m. on Friday because a man was refusing to pay for food in the drive-through lane.

An officer who responded saw a handgun in the passenger seat of Leroux’s white Honda CR-V and called for backup from other officers. Later, though, after officers shot Leroux, the gun — a .28 Glock pistol — was seen on his lap, Police Chief Marcus Jones said during Monday afternoon’s press conference.

During Friday’s incident, a police sergeant talked to Leroux by phone, trying to calm him down, Jones said. Before then, police called for a crisis negotiator to talk to Leroux.

Other than that, Jones provided little new information on Monday beyond what police shared in a press release on Saturday.

There is body-camera footage of the confrontation, but Jones said multiple times that the footage does not present the entire view of what occurred Friday night.

“I want to make clear that body-worn cameras are a helpful tool, but they do not replace the human eye and replace what the officers actually saw,” Jones said.

He said police recovered both a handgun and alcohol from Leroux’s SUV, and added that it was dark in the vehicle.

Jones identified four officers who were involved in the incident: Sarah Vaughn, Brooks Inman, John Searney and Romand Schmuck. All were placed on administrative leave, a standard practice during a shooting investigation.

Jones said he doesn’t know who fired shots or how many shots were fired.

The officers have more than 50 years of combined experience with the department, Jones said.

The Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office is investigating what happened, under a joint agreement between the two counties. Howard County is reviewing footage, and will interview officers and investigators in the coming weeks, Jones said.

Jones briefed the Montgomery County Council earlier on Monday in a closed session.

“For about 30 minutes in the video I watched, the conversation was calm,” said County Executive Marc Elrich, who reviewed the body-cam footage. “People weren’t shouting at Mr. Leroux to get out of his vehicle. Everything seemed to be static and peaceful … and within a matter of seconds, all that changed.”

There have been at least three other shootings by police in Montgomery County this year, with four people killed:

  • On Jan. 8, at least one Gaithersburg police officer shot and killed 24-year-old Kwamena Ocran after a confrontation with four plainclothes officers. The shooting remains under investigation.
  • On April 7, off-duty Pentagon Officer David Hall Dixon fatally shot Dominique Williams and James Lionel Johnson in the parking lot of a Takoma Park condominium building. Dixon told authorities that he confronted people trying to break into a vehicle. He was indicted on charges of murder and attempted murder.
  • Last month, Sgt. Frank Pruitt of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office was cleared of wrongdoing after shooting and killing Kevin Costlow, who attacked him with a large tree branch. That incident occurred on Olney Laytonsville Road on Feb. 6.

In a statement released a few hours before the press conference, the Silver Spring Justice Coalition called for “full transparency” about Friday’s shooting death, including the release of video footage, details of attempts to de-escalate, and whether a mobile mental health unit was called.

The group also called for the “resignation of MCPD leadership.”

Elrich said during Monday’s news conference that county police and officials will thoroughly investigate Friday’s shooting. But the footage would not be released to the public until the Howard County State Attorney’s Office takes statements from the officers involved.

That way, officers will provide statements without having the body-cam footage to influence what they say to investigators, Elrich said.

Last year, with a nationwide focus on police tactics, Elrich convened a Reimagining Public Safety Task Force to help determine possible changes.

That task force released a preliminary audit last month, recommending changes to the county police department’s use-of-force policy, including:

  • Ensuring all use-of-force incidents are investigated
  • Creating a “force investigation team” within internal affairs to review the most serious cases
  • Requiring a “prompt, separate, parallel” administrative investigation for all cases in which an officer shoots someone.
  • Increase training to district supervisors that “holds them accountable for evaluating their officers’ videos with a critical eye.”

It also suggests requiring crisis intervention training for officers at least every two to three years, placing a mental health case manager inside the jail and increasing the starting salary for police from the current $52,500 per year.

A final report will be issued this fall.

After Monday’s news conference, Elrich’s office released the following statement:

“The interaction between Montgomery County police officers and a young man, Ryan Leroux, on July 16, ended tragically. No interaction between the police and individuals should end this way. I have called for a full investigation of this matter so we can understand what happened Friday night, why it happened, as well as ways we can minimize interactions like this ending in fatality.

“To further ensure that the process is equitable, we will be utilizing our ongoing arrangement with the Howard County State’s Attorney to investigate all Montgomery County police-involved shootings. This is a serious situation that will require thorough review of evidence; and I ask for your patience as the Howard County State’s Attorney works in concert with our police department to do their due diligence as they collect facts in this case. This investigation will focus on ensuring that all parties involved in this incident receive equal justice.

“There is no doubt that our police officers can encounter danger at any time, and this incident demonstrates how quickly situations can escalate. I want the residents of Montgomery County, as well as Mr. Leroux’s family, to know that this investigation will be transparent. The findings from this investigation will be utilized toward our efforts to reimagine public safety and address similar situations so they don’t end so tragically.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com.