ACLU slams police for Hyattsville fatal shooting

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Leonard Shand, a 49-year-old Prince George’s County African American man, is dead, shot down in a hail of police gunfire after a 30-minute walking standoff which reached a fatal conclusion in the intersection of Toledo Road and Belcrest Road in Hyattsville. Officials said Shand, a New Carrolton man who was apparently experiencing homelessness, was armed with two knives when police opened fire as he charged at officers as they tried to disorient him with a flashbang grenade and disable him with beanbag shotgun rounds.

Videos and accounts of the incident posted by bystanders to social media sparked outrage almost immediately afterwards, and the American Civil Liberties Union has criticized police handling of the situation. Police officials said Shand was killed because, with his final lunge toward a line of police officers, he posed a lethal threat by virtue of the knives in his possession. Police said 10 officers discharged their weapons during the shooting. Officials with the ACLU said police created a dangerous situation whose only outcome would have led to Shand’s death by police gunfire.

“The police claim to have spent nearly 30 minutes containing this man and using ‘less than lethal force,’ which is not the same thing as de-escalation. Based on the press conference PGPD gave, there was no mention of a health professional ever called to come on-scene to peacefully de-escalate the situation. Instead officers followed the man with their guns pointed,” read a statement issued by the ACLU. “Running away from an exploding flashbang grenade is a natural and inevitable response. 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.”

Three days prior, police said Shand assaulted an employee at a Starbucks near the intersection of Belcrest Road and East-West Highway, striking them in the head with a metal pole. Police were unable to arrest Shand for the earlier incident. According to Hyattsville’s chief of police Amal Awad, the events leading to Shand’s death began at 7:14 a.m. at that same Starbucks. 

Awad said Hyattsville police officers, soon followed by officers from Prince George’s County and the Mount Rainier police departments, arrived at around 7:18 a.m. and confronted Shand, ordering him to drop his weapons. From here, Awad said Shand began walking north on Belcrest Road toward Toledo Road. Over the course of the next half-hour, Awad said, police attempted to use tasers on Shand to bring him into custody. Three times, police officials said, officers tried to tase Shand. Each time, the tasers did not have an effect on Shand. At one point, Awad said, police tried to use pepper spray to disable Shand. Police said it had no apparent effect. At some point, a Hyattsville city police supervisor arrived on scene armed with a shotgun that fires beanbags. According to Awad, police planned to use a flashbang grenade, an explosive device designed to disorient, in conjunction with the beanbag shotgun to disable Shand and bring him into custody. Awad said Shand was heard to say “I embrace death” and made threats to the officer holding the shotgun.

“The attempt is to disorient him so our officers can take him into custody,” said Awad. “When the flashbang deploys our supervisor deploys the nonlethal shotgun. At that point, the suspect charges at our supervisor with both knives.”

In the video, the flashbang is seen to explode behind Shand. He then runs toward police, away from the flashbang. 

In all, six Hyattsville city police officers, three Prince George’s County police officers and one Mount Rainier police officer fired their guns during the incident. 

In the press conference, Awad, as well as Prince George’s County Chief of Police Hank Stawinski, said police were trying to de-escalate the situation throughout the encounter. The emphasis on de-escalation and the necessity of the use of lethal force was questioned by bystanders in videos posted to social media, as well as by digital-onlookers who viewed and shared videos of the incident posted to social media. 

“They ended shooting this poor man! These cops are a bunch of ‘cowards,’” said one neighborhood resident who shared a friend’s video of the shooting on social media. 

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