Opinion: Hyattsville statement on police custody death falls short of transparency


Michael Theis/Route 1 Reporter

A Hyattsville City Police Department vehicle sits outside of Hyattsville City Hall.

Last week, a suspected bicycle thief died after being arrested by officers from the Hyattsville police department. But the first statement issued by Hyattsville officials on the incident lacked crucial details and showed the city still lacks the candor necessary in a new era of police accountability.

The statement released by Hyattsville officials was misleading, if not outright deceptive, in its omission of details on the incident. It read that the suspect, a 29-year-old Mount Rainier man named Edwin Morales, “fell” three times during a brief pursuit with Hyattsville officers. After he was caught and placed in handcuffs, the statement says Hyattsville police called an ambulance to treat Morales for “suspected unknown drug intoxication.” Afterwards, Morales went unresponsive, and the statement says “officers immediately unhandcuffed him and began CPR.”

But, thanks to journalists at WJLA, we know that’s not the entire story. According to reporting from Brad Bell, who obtained a police incident report describing Morales’ encounter with police, Sgt. Patrick O’Hagan hit morales with a baton, pushed Morales into a tree line. The document goes on to say Morales was able to resist, return to his feet and attempt to flee again before other officers arrived to help. “Joint manipulation” was then used to take Morales under arrest. 

From where I stand, there are two macro-level possibilities for these omissions: Hyattsville public relations officials were aware of the additional details when they released their statement and deliberately chose not to publicize them or Hyattsville public relations officials were unaware of the additional details when they released their statement and were thus unable to publicize them.

The omission of those details is puzzling, especially in an era when the public is demanding increased transparency around law enforcement. For one, those additional details – as described by the officers in their own incident reports – do not on their face sound out-of-order when it comes to pursuing a resisting suspect on the run. But their exclusion from the publicly-released statement, followed by Brad Bell’s reporting on the additional details, now raises the question of why these facts were not detailed in the public statement.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.