Maryland County has reached a $ 20 million agreement with the family of an unarmed black man who was fatally shot by a police corporal while handcuffed in a patrol car in January, officials said Monday. The figure, announced on Sunday, makes it one of the largest settlements in a case involving the murder of a police officer.
“There is no appropriate price tag to accompany a loss like this, but we believe that the action taken tonight against Mr Green and ultimately taken against his family necessitates this agreement,” said Angela D. Alsbrooks, county governor. of Prince George County, told a news conference.
“And when that trust is abused, it is necessary to take swift and decisive action,” she added.
Corporal Michael Owen Jr., a 10-year veteran of Prince George’s Police Department, shot the man William H. Green 43 times on Jan. 27 while Mr. Green’s hands were handcuffed behind his back and he sat in the front seat of a parked police cruiser, officials said.
Officials said Corporal Owen, who is Black, fired seven shots from his patrol car, six of which hit Mr Green, killing him.
Mr Green, a father of two who worked for Megabus, was also handcuffed because he was suspected of driving under the influence after hitting several cars, the then police chief said.
Corporal Owen was waiting for another officer to arrive to evaluate Mr. Green for drugs when he opened fire.
An initial police account suggests the battle preceded the shooting. But after reviewing what happened, investigators concluded that “there is no plausible explanation for how Mr. Green could have tried to control the corporal’s gun,” Ms Alsobrooks said.
Within 24 hours of the murder, police accused Corporal Owen of a second-degree murder. This is the first time a county police officer has been charged with murder for the murder of someone on duty, Ms Alsobrooks said.
Corporal Owen, who remains temporarily unpaid, is also charged with willful and unintentional murder, first-degree assault and use of a firearm to commit a violent crime.
“I decided that he should not be treated differently from any other person who has just shot someone several times without justification, as there are no two justice systems,” Ms Alsobrooks said.
For the past few months, the county has been mediating with the Greens and their lawyers. Separate criminal proceedings involving Corporal Owen continue, Ms Alsobrooks said. Corporal Owen has been in jail awaiting trial since Monday afternoon, according to the county. His lawyer could not be found immediately to comment, but he told The Washington Post that the criminal charges against Corporal Owen were based on “unsubstantiated or reduced facts and hastily wrong assumptions.”
William H. Murphy Jr., one of the family’s attorneys, said the agreement reflected “the disgusting nature, the brutal nature, the senseless nature of what happened to Mr. Green.” He said that while some may question the amount to be settled, it would likely cost the county less than going to court, while freeing the family to wait years for a decision.
Malcolm P. Ruff, another family lawyer, said the agreement should be interpreted as a message that “illegal police violence against unarmed black men should not go unpunished and that our communities will no longer support it.”
At the press conference, Mr. Green’s 21-year-old daughter, Shelley Green, mourned the loss of her father, whom she called the “glue” that held the family together.
“He was always there,” she said. “Now I’m alone without him to understand my life.”
In 2011, the department placed Corporal Owen, an officer at the time, on administrative leave after he shot and killed a black man from Landover, Michigan, whom police said aimed his gun at him. Police said he stopped on the side of the road to check on the man who was in the grass.
In June, Prince George Hank Stavinsky’s district police chief resigned after the American Civil Liberties Union published an extensive report documenting the ways in which black and brown police officers were discriminated against by the department. In response to the report, the county also set up a working group to review other aspects of policing, such as the use of force.
As part of the settlement, the Greens will be invited to contact the Police Reform Working Group, which is helping to guide the search for a new police chief, according to the county.
The $ 20 million settlement is not unprecedented in a lawsuit involving police misconduct. Last year, for example, the city of Minneapolis offered $ 20 million to the family of an unarmed Australian woman who was killed by police after calling 911 to say she thought the sounds of the woman being attacked. But the figure still makes it the largest in Maryland history and the third largest in the country, according to Murphy, Sokol and Murphy, the law firm representing the Greens.