OXON HILL — A 24-year-old man received severe injuries during an arrest by the Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) on Oct. 18. However, Police Chief Hank Stawinski insisted during a press conference that officers did not mean to cause physical harm.
“This individual was in our custody, it was our responsibility to protect him,” Stawinski said during a press conference on Oct. 19. “With that said, I want to be clear with my community this evening, again not even 48 hours into it, that I have no information either from the internal investigation thus far, from independent witnesses that we have talked to or from anything that’s been offered on social media, whether that be testimonial or video, I have no information that leads me to believe that these officers acted to harm this individual intentionally.”
The incident, which Stawinski referred to as a “horrible accident,” occurred when a PGPD patrol officer pulled over a car with expired tags at the 4700 block of Wheeler Road. When the driver, Demonte Ward-Blake, repeatedly reached for the center console, despite commands to place his hands on the steering wheel, the officer called for backup.
When more officers arrived, Ward-Blake was asked to exit the vehicle and placed in handcuffs for officer safety, according to the PGPD. The child that was in the car with Ward-Blake left with another adult who had arrived on the scene.
As the officers prepared to search and place him in their car, Ward-Blake began to strike one of the officers and attempted to flee the scene. In response to Ward-Blake’s actions, the officer took him to the ground to prevent him from escaping. As officers attempted to set him up to continue to search him, Ward-Blake said that he was in pain and an ambulance was called to assist him.
Ward-Blake was taken to the hospital, where he was found to have critical injuries. His family confirmed to media outlet NBC Washington that he suffered a broken nose and injuries to his spinal cord, which left him paralyzed from the waist down.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks addressed the community to express concern for the incident on behalf of herself and other county officials.
“We share the views of the public that this particular outcome was unanticipated,” she said. “Nobody expects that you will be arrested and receive a grievous injury like this one, and this is an unanticipated outcome. And as the chief has said, we accept as well an understanding that anybody we take into our custody is our responsibility.”
She added that a comprehensive and transparent investigation would be conducted, and after the investigation, county officials will deal with that they learn from it.
The investigation will involve looking at the type of force used in the situation as the PGPD reviews the actions of the police officer who took down Ward-Blake. According to Stawinski, the PGPD follows these steps whenever officers come into physical contact with a resident, and it does not necessarily mean that an internal investigation will follow.
Because such a serious injury was involved, the Special Investigation Response Team will also determine whether the actions taken were within department policy. Stawinski said the department trains officers on several tactics to use in various situations to bring people under control, and what the officer did, in this case, was not outside of those tactics. However, Stawinski insisted that there is no evidence to suggest that this was an expected outcome.
“I have no information to believe it was malicious, no information to believe that it was intentional, and nothing other than a horrible, horrible accident as of now,” Stawinski said.
According to police officials, during a search of Ward-Blake’s car, a knife in the center console and marijuana were found. Part of the interaction was recorded on the dash camera of the officer who made the initial stop. Despite Ward-Blake being placed in the car, he was out of the camera’s view when he attempted to escape and was injured.
The officer, who was not named, is currently on routine administrative leave.