Report criticizes police actions in Shand killing

An outside investigation into the fatal police shooting of Leonard Shand found major problems with how police handled the events leading up to Shand’s death, while deeming the shooting itself to be “consistent with accepted standards of police practices.” The full 40-page report is embedded below this article and can be downloaded here. The report was prepared by Powers Consulting Group’s Tyrone Powers, a former FBI agent hired as an outside consultant to review the incident and make recommendations. Powers was on hand to explain the findings of the report during a Sept. 10, 2020, press conference where Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy revealed a grand jury had declined to bring charges against anyone over the incident.

West Hyattsville Metro master plan overhaul in the works

Neighborhoods in Hyattsville, Mount Rainier and Chillum are getting a second look from Prince George’s County planners, who will soon launch an 18-month effort to create a new master plan that will shape future development near the West Hyattsville Metro Station. The resulting document will replace the 2006 Transit District Development Plan overlay zone for the West Hyattsville Metro Station, which currently governs what can and cannot be built near the metro station. Development in the area around West Hyattsville has lagged behind other nearby neighborhoods, such as the Gateway Arts District or the Prince George’s Plaza Metro Station, which have been transformed over the past 20 years by intense mixed-use development and redevelopment projects. 

Officials in Prince George’s County and Hyattsville’s planning and community development offices said a new master plan for the West Hyattsville area is needed to address market conditions, rethink transportation within the neighborhood, and to implement Prince George’s County’s new zoning code. 

According to Kipling Reynolds, a chief community planner with the Prince George’s County Planning Department, the current West Hyattsville master plan anticipated an intense scale of development the market will not bear. “A lot of the ideas put forth in that plan are not exactly feasible anymore,” said Reynolds, noting the plan predates the 2008 Recession by two years. “We want to be ready when the market is there.”

Further, Kipling said the 2006 plan is also heavily tilted toward design guidelines.

Mount Rainier City Hall is seen from the distance on a bright sunny day. Solar panels top the roof.

10 years later, solar panels start making big bucks for Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier officials expect the solar panels atop city hall to generate around $100,000 for the city over the next year. That’s a big chunk of change for the city, which – due to a stale email address – earned nothing from the solar panels for the better part of a decade. The news was announced at Mount Rainier’s Sept. 2, 2020, City Council meeting by Councilor Bryan Knedler, who spearheaded the effort to get the panels installed in 2011. According to Knedler, the panels generated about $7,000 for the city last month.

Mount Rainier launches COVID rent, food assistance programs

The city of Mount Rainier has launched its own emergency assistance fund to help residents affected by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic disruptions to buy groceries and pay rent and utility bills, at least while supplies last. The programs were unveiled at Mount Rainier’s Aug. 19, 2020, City Council meeting by City Manager Latasha Gatling. Under the program, approved residents can receive a one-time payment of up to $1,000 to help pay off overdue rent or utility payments, paid directly to the landlord or utility company. Applicants must prove they reside in the city of Mount Rainier and must show evidence of need, and must demonstrate that the need for assistance was related to the coronavirus pandemic.  Further, applicants must provide copies of bills or late-notices for rent or mortgage delinquencies.

Mount Rainier might escalate request for Shand shooting video

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.

Mount Rainier activists hope to build hyperlocal ‘Defund the Police’ movement

Now, as the national debate around policing has re-emerged – and the  “defund the police” movement found a wide audience – a group of activists hope to build a lasting, grassroots movement to pressure Mount Rainier officials to rethink how the city approaches law enforcement. 

Tentatively called Mount Rainier Community Action, the ad-hoc group of activists hosted a protest in Mount Rainier June 20, 2020, that served to inaugurate the hyperlocal movement. An estimated 200 people participated. The event featured music, marching, calls-to-action, speeches and eulogies for the victims of police violence. 

“I think there’s a lot of momentum in this moment to all of us develop and better understand how we can have an impact right in the community,” said Alicia Skeeter, one of the organizers, in an interview with Route 1 Reporter. 

Police reform issues are unique in American political discourse. While issues surrounding the intersection of racism and law enforcement are national-level issues, those with the most power over the police are local officials in charge of the police departments that patrol cities, counties and towns across America. Mount Rainier, which has had to endure its own issues with police accountability, is no different.

Mount Rainier hopes to catch up on audits this year

Mount Rainier city officials anticipate they will have their audits up-to-date by August 30. Until recently, Mount Rainier had not filed completed audits, as required by state law, since 2017. But in March, city officials received the first of the outstanding audits, which revealed serious oversight issues around the city’s financial management.

Extension given to interim Mount Rainier city manager

Latasha Gatling has been given another year at the helm of Mount Rainier’s government administration, City Council announced April 13, 2020. Gatling was hired November 2019 to fill in a vacancy left by the sudden resignation of former City Manager Miranda Braatz in September 2019. Gatling’s term has been extended through at least April 30, 2021, according to the announcement. Gatling was originally hired on an interim basis to serve until at least July 2020. Gatling’s resume includes past positions served as Councilmember at Large, Council President, and City Administrator for Seat Pleasant.