2019 | Police & Fire

Social Justice Group Questions Officer-Involved Shooting Review

Rally, prayer vigil planned Sunday after county report clears officer in fatal confrontation

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A display of support for Robert White, killed in an officer-involved shooting in June 2018.

Gina McNeal

A Silver Spring civil rights group is questioning findings in a county police report that cleared an officer involved in a fatal shooting last year and is planning a public rally and prayer vigil on Sunday to press for reforms in police practices.

The Silver Spring Justice Coalition is rejecting the police report, released this week, that concluded that Officer Anand Badgujar’s shooting of Robert White during a struggle was justified, the group announced Thursday.

The findings of the county police investigation fail to justify the actions of Badgujar and demonstrate “walking while black in a residential neighborhood is conduct that can subject any member of the community to confrontation,” the coalition said in a statement.

The coalition is a collection of social justice organizations that joined after White’s death in 2018. Members have held two similar rallies and vigils since his death, advocating for changes in police practices.

“We have been working since then to push for meaningful change in our county’s policing, both with pushing legislation with local government then also meeting with Chief Manger before he left and trying to push directly for changes within the department,” said Laurel Hoa of Showing Up for Racial Justice, Montgomery County.

Police chief J. Thomas Manger retired this month.

The coalition wants changes to police practices regarding stopping residents and increased training in de-escalation techniques and racial bias issues. The group is also asking government officials to emphasize mental health care and education in county budgets.

Hoa said community policing is another major emphasis for the coalition under the belief that better knowledge of the community could’ve saved White’s life.

“He was a very valued member of the community and just very well-known for always being out walking,” Hoa said. “If Officer Badgujar actually lived there, he would not have noticed a black man walking on the street and thought he looked suspicious, he would’ve been like, ‘Oh that’s Robbie, what’s up man?’”

The coalition is pushing to have community members more heavily involved in the selection of a police chief, Hoa said.

Badgujar fatally shot White on June 11, 2018, following a confrontation near Three Oaks Drive and Sligo Creek Parkway in Silver Spring, according to authorities and investigators. Body-worn camera footage from officers showed White holding down the officer and punching him in the head.

The Howard County prosecutor’s officer conducted an initial investigation into the shooting, in accordance with an agreement between Howard and Montgomery counties, and did not recommend criminal charges against the officer, deeming the shooting legally justifiable.

County police came to the same conclusion in a March 26 memo sent by Manger to County Executive Marc Elrich. The memo was released Wednesday.

At-large County council member Will Jawando is sponsoring a bill that will preclude the county department from having any involvement in investigations of its officer-involved shootings, placing authority with a neighboring jurisdiction or an outside law enforcement agency.

Jawando will be speaking at Sunday’s rally, along with Christ Congregational Church pastor Matt Braddock, county NAACP representative Cherri Branson and Rosemary McCloskey, a neighbor of White.

A spokesman for Elrich said Thursday he would not be commenting on the coalition’s event and a spokesman for the police department said it supports the First Amendment rights of residents to protest.

Charlie Wright can be reached at charlie.wright@bethesdamagazine.com