A fatal shooting nearly a decade ago by a Maryland officer is under review after the same officer was charged earlier this week in the shooting death of a handcuffed man. In what Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski called an “unprecedented” move, the officer, Corporal Michael Owen Jr., was charged with murder, manslaughter and and associated gun crimes within 24 hours of the fatal shooting of William Green, 42, on Monday night.
Stawinski said Owen, 31, opened fire seven times at Green, of Washington, D.C., who had his hands handcuffed behind his back and was sitting in the front seat of a police cruiser. Green was struck multiple times, according to charging documents.
“There’s not a dynamic by which we are going to defend the indefensible,” Stawinski said as he announced the charges Tuesday.
Green’s family gathered Thursday with national civil rights attorney Billy Murphy Jr., who praised Stawinski for moving quickly to charge Owen, but called for swift justice for Green’s “horrible, tragic, and completely unnecessary death.”
“It’s just not right,” said Green’s mother Brenda Green. “I love and miss my son, and I’ll never see my son again. Something has to be done.”
Murphy, who is known for representing the family of Freddie Gray, also called for a review of Owen’s past use of force incidents. According to CBS affiliate WUSA-TV, the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s office has opened a review into Owen’s fatal shooting of Rodney Edwards in 2011.
Owen had been leaving a Toys for Tots volunteer event at the Prince George’s Police headquarters when he saw the 35-year-old Edwards lying in the grass near his Palmer Park home, the station reports. Owens stopped to help Edwards, former Prince George’s County Assistant Police Chief Kevin Davis said at the time, but opened fire when Edwards pointed a loaded revolver in Owens’ direction.
Owen was not charged in Edwards’ death. Edwards’ family, however, disputed that he had a gun. Edwards’ uncle Henry Edwards told the station that he appreciates the state’s attorney’s office decision to review the case now, because he feels his nephew, a father of three, didn’t receive the justice he deserved in 2011.
“It’s uncalled for,” he told the station. “You’re supposed to be protecting us, but you killed him.”
Stawinski said he aimed to be transparent about the 2011 shooting, but asked for patience as he determined what information could be released under Maryland law. Speaking Thursday, Murphy questioned why Owen was kept on the force following Edwards’ shooting, “allowing him to be in the position to do what he did.”
According to charging documents, Owen was on duty Monday night when he was dispatched to an intersection in Temple Hills on the report of a car accident. WUSA-TV reported Green had been driving when he struck multiple cars. A witness told Owen and a second witness that Green was still in his car, sleeping, the documents said. Owen and the second witness approached the car and Owen removed Green, who appeared to be “under the influence of an unknown substance.” Owen handcuffed Green behind his back and placed him in the front seat of his police car.
About five to 10 minutes later, the second witness heard gunshots, according to the charging documents. He went to Owens’ car and saw Green, still handcuffed and sitting in the front seat, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Green was later pronounced dead.
The charging documents say that a search of Green’s car revealed no weapons.
Prince George’s County Police had earlier released information to the media that officers smelled PCP and cited several witnesses who saw an altercation before Owen opened fire. But Stawinski debunked those claims Tuesday, saying they were based on “preliminary information.” Charging documents said investigators found “no evidence of an altercation” between Owen and Green. Stawinski said Green did appear to be under the influence of an unknown substance, but the shooting happened before a drug recognition expert could respond to the scene.
Murphy also said Thursday that he suspects the incorrect initial information came from Owen.
“We see this kind of smear tactic from police departments all over the country on a daily basis, and we cannot rely on them to tell the truth, especially in the beginning,” Murphy said. “There’s always a cover story, and that too must stop.”
Tearful family members recalled Green, known by his nickname “Boo Boo,” as a caring father of two who enjoyed making people laugh. His daughter Brenda Green described him as “my best friend, my protector, but most importantly, he was my daddy.”
“I am the true definition of a daddy’s girl, who no longer has her daddy with her,” Green said.
Owen was denied bond during a Wednesday court hearing after a Prince George’s County District Court Judge called him “a threat to public safety.” Prosecutor Renee Joy argued that Green was “absolutely no threat” to Owen, WUSA-TV reports.
According to the Washington Post, Owen’s defense attorney Jonathon Scruggs said Owen is an ordained minister who is active in his church. He said Owen was not someone “off the street” accused of committing a violent crime, rather an officer involved in an incident while on duty. He said Owen has no prior convictions.
Some of the incident was captured on cellphone video, Murphy said. Owen was not wearing a body camera because most of the department is not currently equipped with them. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said she supports bodycams and the department is funded to roll out the cameras to the entire patrol division.
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy promised transparency and accountability as a “thorough and independent investigation” unfolds, WUSA-TV reports.
Braveboy vowed to “vigorously pursue justice in a way that is fair and responsible.”