Mount Rainier City Council appears favorably disposed to make an official request to Hyattsville city officials for body camera footage from the 2019 police shooting that killed Leonard Shand.
During its Aug. 6, 2020, Mount Rainier City Council meeting, Councilor Scott Cecil said he was planning on making a second request for Hyattsville to provide video filmed during the incident from Hyattsville officers’ body cameras. One Mount Rainier police officer, Damien Graham, was on the scene during the incident, along with 10 other officers from Hyattsville and Prince George’s County who opened fire. In his prior request, Cecil said Mount Rainier government officials should have access to the footage to help them better understand an incident that involved on of its officers.
“I am planning on making a second written request to Hyattsville’s mayor and Council asking them to send the body camera footage. I understand there is an investigation happening, but I don’t personally have a ton of faith in the process,” said Cecil during the meeting.
Cecil’s first request was made without Mount Rainier City Council backing. While he had informed his colleagues of his intention to make the first request, he did not bring the matter before Mount Rainier City Council for a vote.
Hyattsville City Administrator Tracey Douglas, responding to the first request earlier this year, said the city would not release the footage because the matter concerned an ongoing investigation. Cecil said that argument had no merit. Maryland police agencies routinely release video footage while investigations are underway.
“The idea that the investigation [is] a reason for not releasing the video is BS,” said Cecil, by way of a comment on the Mount Rainier City Council meeting live-stream, during the Aug. 6, 2020, meeting. “
This time around, Mount Rainier City Council members volunteered to co-sign the letter and wondering why the video hasn’t been released in general. In brief comments, Mount Rainier Mayor Malinda Miles offered to put the matter before City Council for a vote, and Councilor Luke Chesek offered to cosign a request.
“They should at least give you a valid reason,” said Councilor Bryan Knedler during the meeting. “I am very curious about the whole thing – unless they think it is evidence that will taint the investigation, we need to hear a better explanation of why they feel they can’t release it.”
“It is becoming very uncomfortable they don’t want us to see it,” said Councilor Celina Benitez. “If there is a reason, then I want to make sure it’s a solid reason. And it’s been quite a few months now and the footage hasn’t been released. I don’t know why. I’m not going to speculate.”
Video view misconception
During the meeting, Mount Rainier City Council members asserted at least twice that Hyattsville City Council members have not seen the video either. This is false. After the shooting, Hyattsville City Paolice Department screened the video for City Council members and the president of the Prince George’s County Chapter of the NAACP.
Hyattsville City Councilor Joseph Solomon viewed video of the incident shortly after it happened. He told Route 1 Reporter in October that City Council members were able to view video of the incident captured by the body camera of one of its officers. Solomon said the video of the incident he viewed did not show the very first moments of the encounter. Further, the video showed to City Council members was not from Chris Evans, the first officer to encounter Shand.
Solomon said the video raises uncomfortable questions about why the police did not deploy a police dog to try and subdue Shand. Using dogs against armed suspects raises its own set of complicated ethical and legal dilemmas, and is a controversial practice that differs from department to department. But Solomon said police can be heard on video after the shooting saying they feared the dog would be hurt.
“They say that in the videos. They didn’t want the dog to get hurt,” said Solomon. “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.”
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