SEABROOK – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland are challenging the reports released by the Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) and multiple local municipalities on the officer-involved shooting death of 49-year-old Leonard Shand.
According to police officials, Shand was holding onto two knives during a standoff with officers on Belcrest Road next to the Mall at Prince George’s on Sept. 26.
Over the course of 30 minutes, Hyattsville City Police officers, assisted by members of the PGPD and the Mount Rainier Police Department, attempted to negotiate with him to put the weapons down.
During the confrontation, officers say they attempted non-lethal methods first.
That included deployed tasers on three separate occasions, pepper spray, a flashbang and a non-lethal shotgun firing four bean bag shots to subdue the suspect but they had no effect on Shand, Hyattsville Police Chief Amal Awad said.
Shand, who threatened the officer holding the non-lethal shotgun, attempted to charge at the officer but six members of police shot at him during his sprint, killing him.
However, according to the nonprofit organization, PGPD’s claim of using “less than lethal force” is not the same as attempting to de-escalation the situation.
During the 30-minute standoff with Shand, police officials did not mention the use of a medical professional, which could have peacefully talked down the suspect to end the situation, ACLU said.
PGPD Police Chief Hank Stawinski said during the press conference that Shand holding the knives made the situation more dangerous and forced officers to employ the tactics of using pepper spray and using a taser.
“It was a unique danger where he could defeat our body armor and lead to serious injuries,” Stawinski said. “Their goal was to distract him and to bring him under control and not to hurt him. That knife posed a unique challenge.”
The ACLU also claimed that the timeline of events does not match videos circulating over social media which shows a flashbang grenade being deployed before Shand moved forward towards police moments before the shooting.
“Running away from an exploding flashbang grenade is a natural and inevitable response,” ACLU said. “The police created a dangerous situation, causing an armed man to run towards them, and then used the inevitable result of their actions as the justification to shoot him.”
The organization also attacked PGPD for its use of posting photos of the bloody knives that Shand held during the incident but not releasing any of the body camera footage.
“In the footage released (on social media), nobody was seen to be stabbed,” ACLU said. “The police officers shot multiple times, and not only left bullet holes in the victim’s body but bullet holes in nearby buildings that could have easily hit any other passerby.”
At the press conference, PGPD spokesperson Jennifer Donelan confirmed that county officers were wearing body cameras and the dash-cams on police vehicles also caught the incident.
Investigators are going through the video as part of their investigation, officials say.
Currently, the ACLU is a part of a lawsuit filed in Dec. 2018 alleging police misconduct and discrimination within the force. The lawsuit is still ongoing in the discovery phase, according to attorneys working the case. The organization said it demands PGPD to provide more answers of the conduct of their officers during the shooting and to release any video backing up their claims.
“Poor training and systematic racism are not excuses for Maryland police agents to kill Black and Brown people at will with no accountability,” ACLU said. “Together we must put a stop to police brutality and the needless killings of Black and Brown people.”
For their part, PGPD ended their press conference asking for more funding to provide cameras to local districts like Hyattsville and Mount Rainer. According to Donelan, the majority of county officers have body cameras, but the whole agency does not.
The department requested funding for cameras during budget conversations with the Alsobrooks administration. It was ultimately not included in the FY 2020 budget, but the county funded the increased storage memory for the body cameras currently being used.
“We stand by anybody who wants body cameras on our officers,” Donelan said. “…We fully support our officers wearing body cameras, and it is something that we want to see in the future, and we working with our county executive’s office to make it happen.”
PGPD has not commented on the ACLU’s statements directly.
All 10 officers involved in the shooting, including PGPD Sgt. David Cheatham and officers Dario Daniel and Kesha Nsiah-Ababio, are severing administrative leave as is standard operating procedure during a shooting incident. According to PGPD officials, its Special Investigative Response Team will lead the investigation at the request of Hyattsville City and Mount Rainer police.