Actions of officer who shot, killed Silver Spring robbery suspect found justified

An investigation into a Montgomery County police officer’s shooting that killed a man suspected in an attempted armed bank robbery in Silver Spring, Maryland, has found that the officer’s actions were justified.

Officer Christopher LaPointe shot and killed the suspect, identified as Mikyas Tegegne, earlier this year. Per protocol, LaPointe was immediately placed on administrative leave during the investigation into the shooting.

As part of an agreement between prosecutors in Montgomery and Howard counties to bolster transparency of investigations into officer-related shootings, the incident was referred to the Howard County prosecutor’s office for investigation.

That office spent the next several weeks reviewing a wealth of evidence, including body camera footage worn by 14 responding officers, including LaPointe; recordings of 911 calls; witness interviews; 887 photos; and surveillance video and autopsy reports.

On Friday, the Montgomery County prosecutor’s office shared a report of the investigation’s findings. “It is the opinion of the Howard County prosecutors that Officer LaPointe’s actions on Jan. 16, 2019 were justified and reasonable, based on the defense of self and the defense of others.”

The report relayed the sequence of events from the robbery and shooting in great detail.

Around 10:45 a.m. on Jan. 16, police said Tegegne walked into the manager’s office at the BB&T bank on Wayne Avenue, near the Silver Spring Metro station. He said he had a bomb in his backpack, showed a gun and demanded $20,000 in cash.

The bank manager was able to exit her office and inform the bank employees of the robbery. A “panic button” was pressed, alerting the police. Before the manager returned to her office, Tegegne exited the bank — presumably when he heard the sirens — and walked south on Dixon Avenue.

LaPointe responded to the call of a robbery in progress and was given a description of the suspect by dispatch. He was also informed that the suspect had a gun.

LaPointe spotted Tegegne exiting BB&T Bank, saw that he matched the suspect description and approached him. LaPointe gave Tegegne verbal orders to stop and show his hands, and noticed a red wire sticking out of Tegegne’s backpack.

LaPointe then determined Tegegne matched the suspect description from a similar bank robbery in December 2018, which LaPointe helped investigate. In that robbery, like the current one, the suspect entered a bank with a backpack that had a red wire protruding from it and threatened to blow up the bank if he was not given money. In the December robbery, which took place nearby the Wayne Avenue BB&T, the suspect made off with $10,000, headed toward the Silver Spring Metro station and escaped.

As LaPointe was telling Tegegne to stop, a second Montgomery County police officer approached them and was able to observe their interaction. Tegegne did not follow LaPointe’s instructions, but instead kept walking away from the bank.

When Tegegne reached the Bonifant & Dixon parking garage, he turned around to face the pursuing officers and reiterated his statement that he had an explosive device in his backpack. Tegegne said he would detonate the device if the officers got too close, killing himself and those around him.

The verbal exchange between Tegegne and LaPointe continued as they walked the entire length of the ground floor level of the parking garage, while the second officer followed close behind.

When he reached the end of the parking garage, Tegegne pushed through a door that led to a vestibule and took off running. He then pushed through a second door, exiting into an alley.

LaPointe, also now running, followed Tegegne through both doors. Tegegne ran down a set of steps just outside the door, ran through the alley and descended a second set of steps near Buena Vida Mexican restaurant, disappearing from LaPointe’s view.

In the approximately three seconds LaPointe’s view of Tegegne was obstructed, Tegegne shed his backpack and ran toward a third set of steps next to the restaurant. That third set of steps emptied onto the sidewalk of Ramsey Avenue, directly across the street from the entrance to the Metro station.

When LaPointe reached the top of the second set of steps, he had an obstructed view of Tegegne. LaPointe aimed his weapon at Tegegne, who had just reached the top of the third set of steps, and fired as Tegegne was running down the steps. One second later, he fired a second and third time.

Tegegne was struck in the head sometime between clearing the last step and the sidewalk on Ramsay Avenue, but his momentum carried him past the sidewalk before he finally collapsed in the street on Ramsay Avenue.

LaPointe fired two more shots as Tegegne was falling to the ground.

LaPointe fired a total of five times. Tegegne was struck twice — once in the back of the head and once in the left side of the back.

Immediately after firing, LaPointed yelled at responding officers to stay away from Tegegne because he had said he had a bomb. LaPointe also warned officers to stay away from the backpack, which was lying nearby.

Shortly after the shooting, footage from LaPointe’s body camera captured a conversation between himself and another officer, in which LaPointe said, “I couldn’t let him get on the Metro with that thing.”

Police officers eventually approached Tegegne to give first aid and place him in custody. He was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead at 11:21 a.m.

A loaded 9 mm handgun was recovered from his waistband.

The Montgomery County Fire and Explosive Investigations Unit used a robot to examine the contents of Tegegne’s backpack. They discovered a red extension cord, a roll of aluminum foil, a yellow safety vest, cellphone chargers, a pack of cigarettes and various toiletries.

There was no explosive device inside Tegegne’s backpack.

Following the investigation by the Howard County prosecutor’s office, the Montgomery County prosecutor’s office determined no further investigation of LaPointe’s actions was necessary and that criminal charges against the officer were not warranted.

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