Montgomery County Council raises questions about police practices

Montgomery County Council members are asking police to release “all body camera footage” from the May 9 incident in which a white county police officer is heard using a racial slur when confronting a group of black men outside a McDonald’s in White Oak.

“We’re trying to dig into the underlying circumstances around why this interaction happened in the first place,” Council member Will Jawando told WTOP.

In a letter sent to acting police Chief Russ Hamill, the nine members of the county council also expressed concerns about what they say are apparent agreements between some local businesses and the police department.

Jawando said council members have come to understand “there are a number of places where police act as agents for private businesses and have the ability to enforce trespass orders without checking in with the property owner.” 

That has raised other questions, Jawando said, and the letter signed by council members stated, “We are concerned that such an agreement creates a climate ripe for racial profiling and the loss of trust, accountability and transparency.”

Police spokesman Capt. Tom Jordan said the incident is under investigation, and that the letter sent to police by the council members is “under review.”

On May 9, police responded to the McDonald’s for what they said was a report of trespassing. When officers arrived, they questioned the men and searched their belongings. One of the men had recorded an exchange with a white female police officer that was posted on Instagram. In the video, the officer is heard saying a racial slur.

Police later released body camera footage from the female officer as well as the full Instagram video. “We sincerely regret the disturbing nature of this video,” police said in an initial statement.

In the letter sent to the police department Tuesday afternoon, council members asked for a complete list of businesses that may have the trespass enforcement agreements with police.

Jawando said, “Transparency is really important. You have a case in this instance where trust has been damaged,” referring to the May 9 incident.

Council members also want the number and locations of all trespassing citations issued in the last two years in cases where no arrests were made and no other charges were brought.

“We want to know about the trespassing citations themselves,” including demographic information, Jawando said.

“Who are the people who are getting stopped and issued trespass orders?” he asked.

The council members’ letter also said, “We recognize that we have great men and women who protect and serve our community,” but added, “The incident last week damages the trust needed to help keep our community safe and does a disservice to officers who put their lives on the line and uphold the high standards of MCPD with dignity every day.”

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino contributed to this report. 

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