Families Of Police Victims Push State Lawmakers For Change
State lawmakers heard hours of testimony Tuesday about a slate of Democratic proposals to reform policing in Maryland, in the first of three straight days of hearings on the topic. In addition to civil rights advocates, law enforcement leaders and elected officials, the state Senate Judicial Proceedings committee heard from several residents who spoke about fathers, sons and other family members killed by police in Maryland.
One of them was Tracy Shand, whose 49-year-old brother Leonard was shot and killed by police in Hyattsville almost exactly a year ago.
On Sept. 26, 2019, Leonard was standing in an apartment building parking lot, holding two knives. He reportedly told a police officer he was ready to “embrace death.” After 30 minutes of failed deescalation efforts by officers from three different police agencies, 10 of those officers shot him.
Earlier this month, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy announced that the officers involved would not be charged with a crime. Her office had hired an outside use-of-force expert, who determined that the officers’ tactics were legal.
“These officers failed to call the medical unit,” Tracy Shand told lawmakers Tuesday. “They used an illegal flash-bang and shot my brother over 44 times, killing him.”
She urged lawmakers to limit the circumstances in which law enforcement can legally use lethal force.
“Either you want to protect the citizens and we all live peacefully, or you want to continue to condone these types of acts with excessive use of force — people getting killed,” Shand said. “Over 44 shots? What, the first two shots didn't count? So you have to keep going? It does not matter what the situation is. That is excessive.”
Creating statewide use-of-force rules was one of seven legislative proposals the committee considered Tuesday.
Another proposal would create a database of police officers who are accused of misconduct. Such a database might have saved Brandon Clark, who was shot in 2007 by an off-duty police officer while delivering furniture to the officer’s home.
“The officer who killed him had a significant history of complaints having been filed against him, documented mental health issues, and prior civil verdicts against him for police brutality,” said Brandon’s mother, Marilyn Clark, at Tuesday’s hearing. “Yet he was still on the force, fully equipped with a badge and a gun.”
The same proposal might also have helped Anton Black, who was killed two years ago by a police officer in Greensboro, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The officer, Thomas Webster IV, was indicted and acquitted of assault for kicking a black man in the jaw in 2013, when he was a police officer in Delaware.
“Essentially, Anton was arrested, tried, convicted and executed in less than 30 minutes from his initial encounter with Webster, within three feet of the window to his bedroom, and less than two feet from our mother,” said LaToya Holley, Black’s sister.
Holley urged a few policy changes, including a statewide use-of-force law. Others whose family members were killed by police didn’t have specific policy asks during Tuesday’s hearing. They said only that they want more accountability and transparency and for the killings by police to stop.
Bowie Police Chief John Nesky, president of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, said law enforcement generally wants that, too.
“At the end of the day, law enforcement as a profession wants to be at the same goal as everyone here,” Nesky said. “We want transparency, we want accountability, and we want fair and equitable treatment of our residents.”
Nesky said he supports some of the policies discussed, such as whistleblower protections for police. He also supports the idea of a database for police misconduct, but with a few tweaks to the original proposal.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said he supports a proposed requirement that officers intervene when they see colleagues using excessive force and a requirement that officers report abuses to management.
However, several law enforcement officials criticized a proposal to eliminate no-knock warrants, one of which led to the high-profile killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.
“If no-knock warrants were to be eliminated in a knee-jerk response to chasing the moment, our communities would suffer,” said Howard County State’s Attorney Rich Gibson. “No-knock warrants are an important tool that if used appropriately promotes the safety of the officers, individuals whose home is being searched and the safety of the community."