Maryland county officials award $20 million to family of man shot while handcuffed in patrol car

Maryland county officials award $20 million to family of man shot by police

TEMPLE HILLS, Md. — Authorities have awarded $20 million to the family of an unarmed Washington, D.C. man who was shot and killed by a police officer in January as he sat, handcuffed, in the passenger seat of a patrol car.

William Howard Green, 43, was slain Jan. 27 by then-Prince George’s County police Cpl. Michael Anthony Owen Jr., 32, who is being held without bond in the county jail.

Owen, a 10-year veteran of the force, was indicted in March on charges of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, misconduct in office, first-degree assault and use of a handgun in the commission of a violent crime. He was also fired following Green’s death.

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A Washington Post investigation published earlier this month indicated that Owen had a history of using force against suspects and the officer triggered the police department’s early-warning system by using force twice in a short time frame last summer.

His supervisors weren’t notified of the red flag until January, and they had not yet taken action at the time of Green’s killing, the Post reported.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced Monday that the county had settled a civil lawsuit filed by Green’s family.

“This settlement in no way makes up for the loss experienced by Mr. Green’s mother, children and family,” Alsobrooks said in a statement. "However, when we are wrong and we need to take responsibility, we will.

“When we need to make reforms in our police department, we will, and in circumstances where we must defend our department, we will.”

During a news conference announcing the settlement, Alsobrooks said the community trusts police officers the authority to use deadly force, but only when needed.

“When that trust is abused, it is necessary to take swift and decisive action,” she said.

Owen’s arrest within 24 hours of Green’s death was “unprecedented” in the department, Prince George’s County’s then-police Chief Hank Stawinski said in January.

Hassan Murphy, an attorney representing Green’s family, appeared to agree Monday in a statement.

“William’s death is a tragedy and we and his family mourn his loss,” Murphy said. "And while nothing will diminish the pain the family feels, we commend the leadership that County Executive Alsobrooks has shown in taking swift and decisive action to charge Owen, to provide fair and reasonable economic justice to the Green family, and her efforts to reform the department that were already underway.

“She has set a new standard for how these matters should be handled.”

As part of the settlement, Alsobrooks will allow members of Green’s family to address the police reform work group she established in July. The group is comprised of community advocates and public officials who are charged with developing recommendations for the police department.

“The group, with representation from organizations such as the NAACP and SCLC, is performing a review of the department and its policies and procedures and will issue a final report with its recommendations by Dec. 4, 2020,” Alsobrooks said.

Seven shots

Green’s fatal encounter with Owen began around 7:20 p.m. Jan. 27 after Owen and another officer responded to Temple Hills, where Green was accused of crashing his Buick into multiple vehicles along Saint Barnabas Road. According to a probable cause affidavit, the officers found Green parked in a residential area nearby, dozing in his car.

Green was handcuffed behind his back and placed in the front seat of Owen’s police cruiser.

“A short time later, Owen fired seven shots from inside his police cruiser, six of which struck Mr. Green, killing him,” Alsobrooks said.

Owen claimed that Green attempted to gain control of his service weapon, but use-of-force specialists in the department could not corroborate that claim, Alsobrooks said.

The officers also initially reported that Green was possibly under the influence of drugs, claiming to have smelled phencyclidine, or PCP, when they approached him. Also known as “angel dust,” PCP is a hallucinogen associated with sometimes violent behavior in users.

Stawinski later walked back that statement, saying PCP did not appear to have been involved in the incident. Witness footage of Green’s initial encounter with the officers, obtained by Fox 5 in Washington, showed him sitting calmly in the driver’s seat of his vehicle. According to authorities, Owen placed Green in the passenger seat of his patrol car and then got into the driver’s seat to await the arrival of a drug recognition expert.

See footage of William Green below in Fox 5′s report the day after the shooting.

Five to 10 minutes later, the other officer, identified in the affidavit as “Witness 2,” heard gunshots.

“The investigation revealed that (Owen) fired his gun seven times, striking the decedent multiple times,” the document states. "A subsequent search of the decedent’s person and the officer’s vehicle were conducted, and no weapons were found.

“In addition, the investigation failed to uncover any evidence of an altercation between the decedent and the defendant.”

“According to eyewitnesses, Owen then got out of the police cruiser visibly nervous and in a panic,” Murphy said in his statement Monday. "The other officers dragged William, who was still alive and moaning and gasping for air, from the police cruiser and put him on the ground with his hands still cuffed behind his back.

“William Green was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.”

Use of force and psychological issues

According to the Post’s probe into Owen’s career, he had used force on civilians at least nine times. At one point, the officer sought worker’s compensation for “psychological difficulties” following a previous fatal shooting in which he was involved, the newspaper reported.

His supervisors were not aware of his worker’s comp request, which Owen claimed was due to a fatal shooting on Nov. 29, 2010. Police officials said they have no record of a fatal police-involved shooting on that date, the Post reported.

Owen’s most recent prior use of force was on Dec. 29, less than a month before Green was slain. Video obtained by the Post shows Owen putting pressure on the neck of Jerry Costen, a tow truck driver who said he was helping his niece with her car in a 7-Eleven parking lot when police arrived to see about a man who had apparently been shot in a robbery.

Video of an arrest on Jan. 3, 2019, shows Owen pinning Jonathan Harris, 27, to the ground during a traffic stop. Owen’s hands are seen around Harris’s neck.

Prince George’s County Police Department policy prohibits chokeholds, the Post reported.

Harris faces a charge of failing to obey a lawful order, but prosecutors intend to drop the charge, according to the newspaper. Charges filed against Costen and his niece, both of whom have filed complaints with the department, were dropped in February after prosecutors reviewed the evidence, including the video.

Still, those two incidents were not the ones that triggered the department’s early-warning system, the Post said. Owen is accused of slamming Devonne Gaillard Jr. by the neck on July 13, 2019, after responding to a fight between Gaillard and his girlfriend.

Eighteen days later, on July 31, Owen accidentally fired his service weapon while struggling with a man who had crashed a suspected stolen motorcycle. No one was injured, but Owen was ordered to complete “judgment enhancement shooting training” and meet with a department psychologist, the paper reported.

His sister, Venesha Owen, confirmed to the Post that her brother suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Owen has two additional shootings in his background. The first shooting in which he was involved happened in 2010, weeks after he graduated from the police academy.

According to a Prince George’s County Police Department news release, Owen, who is not named in the report, was off-duty and had arrived at his home when he was approached by a would-be robber.

“The officer drew his departmentally-issued firearm and there was an exchange of gunfire between the officer and suspect,” the news release said. “The suspect fled on foot and the officer was uninjured.”

Owen fatally shot Rodney Deron Edwards, 35, of Landover the night of Dec. 17, 2011, after Edwards, who had been lying in some grass on the side of a roadway, threatened him with a revolver when Owen stopped to offer him assistance.

Owen, who had been an officer for two years at that time, was driving an unmarked police van as he left a Toys for Tots event, the Post reported at the time.

Following the shootings, Owens was taken off patrol for a while and spent time as a spokesman for the department, the Post reported.

The newspaper’s investigation also found that multiple people who encountered Owen on duty over the years accused him of police brutality. Others he arrested had their charges dropped because Owen failed to show up for court proceedings in their cases.

Former Prince George's County police Cpl. Michael Anthony Owen Jr., left, is charged with murder and other crimes in the Jan. 27, 2020, shooting death of William Howard Green, right, of Washington, D.C.
Former Prince George's County police Cpl. Michael Anthony Owen Jr., left, is charged with murder and other crimes in the Jan. 27, 2020, shooting death of William Howard Green, right, of Washington, D.C. (Prince George's County State's Attorney's Office, Brenda Michaele Green via AP)