Hyattsville City Councilor Joseph Solomon has called into question major aspects of the police narrative surrounding last week’s fatal police shooting of Leonard Shand by 10 officers from Hyattsville, Prince George’s County and Mount Rainier police departments. Solomon’s on-the-record disclosures are notable because he is one of a handful of individuals who have so-far been permitted to view body-camera video from the incident recorded by Hyattsville police.
Solomon’s statements came in interviews with Route 1 Reporter journalists following a tense community meeting hosted Oct. 1, 2019, by city officials to answer questions about Shand’s death. In addition to questioning the official police narrative, Solomon’s recollection of the video footage he has reviewed also provided previously unreported details about police response to the incident.
Solomon, who represents Hyattsville’s Ward Five, said City Council members were shown video of the incident by police officials. According to Solomon, City Council members were shown two video clips of the incident, one from a body-camera worn by a Hyattsville police officer, the other shot from a nearby high-rise by a bystander – and available on social media – that provides a wide-angle view of Shand’s final moments.
“We say we have a police department whose number one priority is to preserve life,” said Solomon. “I do not believe we did everything to preserve a life in this incident.”
Solomon’s critiques also come ontop of criticism levied by the Maryland Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which alleged police manufactured the circumstances by which they have justified Shand’s killing.
When were knives brandished?
Police narratives shared publicly so far have emphasized allegations that Shand was armed with two kinves before police fatally shot him at the end of the 30-minute walking standoff. Solomon questioned when Shand was first alleged to have brandished the knives. Solomon said body-camera video footage reviewed by City Council members showed Shand with his hands out-of-frame during early stages of the standoff.
“You cannot make out from the video he has knives in his hands,” said Solomon, speaking of video footage he reviewed depicting early moments in Shand’s encounters with police. “I did not see knives in his hands.”
Solomon’s recollection of this aspect of the video footage he has reviewed was backed-up by a participant in the Oct. 1 meeting who told city officials she was present when police first encountered Shand, and who said she did not see knives in his hands during those first moments of Shand’s police encounter. This woman left the meeting before Route 1 Reporter could interview her directly.
In an Oct. 1 interview with Hyattsville Chief of Police Amal Awad conducted before Route 1 Reporter spoke with Solomon, Awad said video footage showed Shand was armed with knives throughout the encounter. Awad said employees of the Starbucks at East-West Highway and Belcrest Road called police about Shand Thursday because they allege he was the same individual who attacked an employee at the store earlier in the week. However, Awad also told Route 1 Reporter in that interview that the Starbucks employees who alerted police to Shand’s presence Sept. 27, 2019, did not indicate he was causing a disturbance that day.
According to Solomon, the question of when Shand first brandished knives during the standoff, and the question of if he was causing a disturbance prior to police encountering him that day, is necessary to evaluate how police responded to the incident. In particular, Solomon said, questions still surround efforts by police to “de-escalate” the situation with Shand. In particular, noting Awad’s statements that Shand was not causing a disturbance when police initially responded the scene, Solomon questioned the necessity of initially approaching Shand in an aggressive manner that may have escalated the situation.
Body camera questions
Relating to the question of when Shand first brandished knives during the standoff, according to Solomon, is an alleged delay in the activation of body-cameras worn by the first officer who responded to the scene. According to Solomon, City Council members did not review body camera footage from Hyattsville police acting corporal Chris Evans, the first officer to arrive on the scene. If such footage exists, he argued, it may be able to provide more context about Shand’s disposition in the early moments of the encounter. Solomon alleged Evans’ body camera was not activated until after the encounter began.
In an interview conducted before Route 1 Reporter spoke with Solomon, Awad said Hyattsville’s body cameras must be activated by a manual button-push. Awad also said the body camera footage she has reviewed came from the second officer to arrive on the scene.
Dog non-deployment questioned
During the Oct. 1 meeting, before Route 1 Reporter spoke with Solomon, Awad was directly asked why police did not loose a police dog present on the scene to try to subdue Shand. Specifically, Awad was asked if there was any policy prohibiting such action. Awad said no such policy existed, but demurred on the question of why the police dog was not used during the incident. Video footage of the incident recorded by bystanders shows a police officer handling a dog alongside the officers who killed Shand.
“That is one of the questions that will have to come out with the investigation with an answer,” said Awad. “I can’t speak to that.”
Solomon, however, said such answers are apparent in the video he reviewed. Solomon said police can be heard to say on the body-camera video he reviewed that the dog was not deployed for fear that Shand would hurt the dog.
“They say that in the videos. They didn’t want the dog to get hurt. I feel that if we are willing to preserve the life of a dog instead of a human, it is dismaying to say the least,” said Solomon.
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