More than three weeks after a Montgomery County Police officer shot and killed an unarmed African-American man, community members and activists are demanding more transparency from the police.
After prosecutors from Howard County, who are conducting the investigation into Anand Badgujar, the Montgomery County Police officer who shot and killed Robert Lawrence White on June 11 in Silver Spring, asked MCP to not release body-camera footage from the encounter, angering activists.
On June 27, two days after MCP officials met with Howard County prosecutors, Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger met with activists to discuss the shooting and their demands.
“I wouldn’t say that we learned anything new,” said Laurel Hoa, an organizer with Showing Up for Racial Justice Montgomery County.
According to police, White attacked Badgujar, and after a confrontation in which Badgujar attempted to pepper spray White, Badgujar shot White multiple times after White assaulted him again.
Hoa said activists and community members made three specific demands with respect to the shooting.
First, they want the video from the two officers involved released “immediately,” Hoa said.
Montgomery County turned the body-camera video over to the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office for review and will not release it pending the outcome of the investigation, as advised by Howard County prosecutors. Manger said the reasoning behind the decision not to release the video is that it could taint the jury pool.
“We do not agree with this decision,” Hoa said, adding that she questioned why police released an account of what happened via a press release if that was the case.
The group also requested the police to be more forthcoming and release a timeline of the incident, Hoa said. However, the police officers in attendance said they were limited in what they could release, as it is an ongoing investigation and personnel files are private.
“This is not acceptable to us,” Hoa said. White’s death “involves the public, and the public should have the right to know.”
The group also requested that the police department set up a compensation fund for victims, which did not get addressed at the meeting, according to Hoa.
For many members of the community, the questions about how police deal with the mentally ill have come to light.
Many of White’s neighbors have said they believed that White suffered from a mental illness, and court records show that as recently as November 2015, a local district court judge committed White to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for “examination as to competency to stand trial” in a misdemeanor trespassing case.
The court found “good cause to believe the defendant may be incompetent to stand trial” per an evaluation by the pretrial supervision unit.
White’s childhood friend, Norman A. Garcia, declined to say whether he had any knowledge that White suffered from a mental illness, but mentioned that White had personal issues and would sometimes preferred to be “left alone” when he went on walks.
“If he was just having a bad day, you just leave him alone,” Garcia said.
Garcia, a native of Silver Spring, first met White when they were classmates at Highland View Elementary School. Garcia said he would keep in touch with White, calling him three to four times a year.
Garcia said that while he respects the police and generally supports them, he believes the officer in this case should not have pulled his gun out.
“He [Badgujar] was too afraid to take an ass-whooping, to fight somebody,” Garcia said. “He [White] was unarmed.”