Hyattsville pushed to share police shooting body-cam video

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Michael Theis/Route 1 Reporter

Mount Rainier City Councilor Scott Cecil.

Hyattsville city officials say they are open to allowing Mount Rainier city officials to review video from Hyattsville police body cameras showing the events leading up to the fatal police shooting of Leonard Shand. The move comes after Mount Rainier City Councilor Scott Cecil, speaking during public comment at Hyattsville’s Jan. 6, 2019, City Council meeting, complained that Hyattsville officials had not responded to earlier requests from himself and Mount Rainier Chief of Police Anthony Morgan to review the footage, which had already been screened by Hyattsville city officials to members of Hyattsville’s City Council and to the president of the Prince George’s Count NAACP. 

“Many local residents were horrified, confused and concerned by this incident. They’re looking for transparency, which is rooted in civilian oversight from each of us,” said Cecil during the meeting. “I’ve reviewed the body camera footage from our officer on two occasions and I’m left with many questions. I quickly realized many of those questions might be answered if I were able to view footage from the body cameras or dash cameras from the other officers from the scene.”

“I’ll talk with our attorney and then I’ll talk with the Mayor and Counci,” Hyattsville City Administrator Tracey Douglas told Route 1 Reporter after the meeting. “Clearly, we want to be as transparent as possible. That is always our goal. But when something is under active investigation, the more we release, the more opportunities there are for inputs to skew what is going on. We want to make sure we follow procedures.”

A single Mount Rainier police officer, Damien Graham, was among 11 officers present when police opened fire on 49-year-old Shand at the end of a half-hour early-morning walking standoff that started Sept. 27, 2019, in Hyattsville near Belcrest Road and East-West Highway. It ended in a hail of gunfire that killed Shand and richocheted through nearby office buildings. In public appearances and press conferences after the incident, police officials with Hyattsville and Prince George’s County have emphasized that Shand was holding two knives and charging toward police when he was killed. They have also said Shand repeatedly stated a desire to “embrace death.”

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. 

Cecil, in a 2018 interview, said Graham arrived to the scene after several other officers had been dealing with Shand. As a result, the video footage he reviewed from Graham’s body camera does not show the first several minutes of the incident. Cecil also said the footage from Mount Rainier’s officer indicates that all of the stun-gun deployments had taken place before Graham arrived on the scene. Hyattsville and county police officials have previously emphasized that officers on the scene unsuccessfully tried to use stun guns four different times to subdue Shand, to no effect. 

The early moments of the encounter have become the focus of police reform activists and city officials in Mount Rainier and Hyattsville, who note that Hyattsville City Chief of Police Amal Awad told Route 1 Reporter that Shand was not causing a disturbance when police were called to confront him over an assault that had occurred earlier in the week. How the event escalated from police responding to an apparently peaceable Shand to a situation where police believe Shand posed a lethal threat to 11 police officers is a key question.

Access to the body-camera footage has been so-far restricted as county police officials conduct an investigation into the incident. But Hyattsville city officials elected to offer to screen body-camera footage from the incident for Hyattsville City Council members and the president of Prince George’s County Chapter of the NAACP. Mount Rainier’s police department also screened the video for Cecil and Councilor Celina Benitez. 

Route 1 Reporter is a subscriber-supported local news website. However, in the service of the public discourse, coverage relating to Leonard Shand’s death is being kept outside of the paywall.

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