Reciprocation builds trust
More bad press for Fairfax County....thank you board of supervisors for fearing the police department
There’s much to like in a recent agreement between Montgomery and Howard counties to investigate police-related deaths in each other’s jurisdictions.
If someone dies in the custody of, or during an interaction with, a Montgomery County police officer, the Howard County state’s attorney’s office will review the evidence and decide whether criminal charges are appropriate. Montgomery County’s prosecutor’s office will do the same for Howard County cases.
It’s a promising sign that both counties are striving to be fair and accountable when scrutiny is needed. This especially matters because police-related deaths across the country — in Ferguson, Mo.; New York City; North Charleston, S.C.; Baltimore city; and other areas — have sparked public outrage.
In some cases, there have been strong feelings in the community that officers should have been held criminally responsible for a death, but weren’t.
It’s common practice for a police department, when faced with allegations against one of its own employees, to have a neighboring agency investigate. However, Montgomery and Howard prosecutors say their evidence-review agreement is the first of its kind in Maryland.
Jaded critics could write off this extra step as meaningless symbolism, convinced that police and prosecutors work closely enough that they will watch out for each other, no matter the jurisdiction.
Then we see otherwise, such as when the state’s attorney in Baltimore filed criminal charges against six officers for the death of Freddie Gray. The skepticism that the fix is in isn’t universally justified.
Police work can be remarkably difficult and fraught with grave life-and-death decisions. Sometimes, killing one person to protect the lives of others is understandable.
According to a Washington Post report about a May 19 encounter in Arlington, Va., a man with a metal pole threatened officers responding to a call about a disturbance. An officer tried to use a Taser, but it didn’t work at first, and the man hit the officer in the face with the pole. The officer tried again to use the Taser and ended up hitting a second officer instead.
When the man swung the metal pole again, the officer shot him three times in his upper body, killing him, the Post wrote, based on the latest information from police. If this account holds true, it’s an example of a split-second decision about the use of deadly force.
If deadly violence isn’t justified, a police officer should be held accountable, too, just as anyone else would.
Montgomery County already has a pending investigation that Howard County will review — the May 12 death of Dajuan Graham, 40, of Burtonsville.
On May 10, Graham was seen acting erratically in the Briggs Chaney area, according to police. When a woman tried to get Graham to stop walking in the roadway of Castle Boulevard, he punched the woman in the face, police said. Observers suspected that Graham was under the influence of PCP.
Graham reportedly ignored multiple orders by police to take his hands out of his pockets. An officer then shocked Graham with a Taser. Graham fell down and was taken to a hospital, where he later assaulted an officer and security staff, according to police. Two days later, he died.
Montgomery County police have been open with information about what happened and the officers who were involved.
That’s a sharp contrast to inexcusable secrecy from the police department in Fairfax County, Va., after an officer there shot and killed a man who had his hands up during a call in 2013, according to police records reported by The Washington Post. It took a court order to force the police department to release details of the call, including the officer’s name, 17 months later. The county has settled a wrongful death suit with the victim’s family, the Post reported.
Montgomery County police and prosecutors have demonstrated that they can be transparent and straightforward in handling cases of police-related deaths, giving the community reason to have faith in their impartiality and professionalism. The reciprocal agreement with Howard County enhances that reputation.