Community group urges Montgomery County to enact police reforms

Supporters of police reform in Montgomery County, Maryland, want changes to use-of-force policies and the elimination of a bill that protects the rights of officers accused of wrongdoing.

They also want to reopen the case of a man fatally shot by a county police officer two years ago.

The Silver Spring Justice Coalition held a news conference outside Montgomery County police’s 3rd District station Tuesday morning, while the county council was in session. The council had previously scheduled a 7:30 p.m. hearing on its police reform bill.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, the bill was voted through to the Public Safety Committee for review on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. The staff report will be posted on Wednesday on the council’s web site.

Tiffany Kelly, with SSJC, told the crowd that the council’s proposed restrictions on the use of chokeholds by police should go further.

“We call for the restriction of the use of neck and carotid restraints, in all circumstances,” said Kelly, adding there should be “a real and true ban” on the practice.

Kelly also called for a ban on the use of no-knock warrants, in which police enter a home without warning.

Attorney Joanna Silver referred to the case of a Montgomery County firefighter whose home was subject to a no-knock warrant in September. Hernan and Lilian Palma said they were handcuffed — along with their teenage daughter — and held at gunpoint while police searched for the son of a woman who was renting a room from the Palmas.

The family filed a notice of claim with the county last month, a move that often precedes a lawsuit.

There were also calls to reopen the case of Robert White, the 41-year-old Silver Spring man who was shot and killed by a Montgomery County police officer in 2018. No charges were filed.

The case was investigated by the department, and its findings were forwarded to the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office. The shooting was deemed “lawful and justified,” a finding that sparked protests and calls for reform.

State Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, D-Montgomery County, who attended Tuesday’s news conference, said the push for reform is part of a much larger effort.

“We are not here to make ourselves feel good — that a little cosmetic change has been made,” she said. “We are calling for transformation.”

There was also state Del. Gabriel Acevero, D-Montgomery County, who referenced his efforts at statewide reforms as part of a bill named for Anton Black, a young Black man who died in police custody on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

In his proposed legislation, called Anton’s Law, Acevero called for a number of changes to police practices across the state.

“It ensures that we’re establishing a statewide use-of-force standard, with criminal implications for cops who choose to abuse and use excessive or deadly force when it is not necessary,” he said.

The bill would also change the way police investigate allegations of abuse by their own officers, he said. It would, in Acevero’s words, call for “accountability, oversight and justice — because that’s what our communities are demanding.”

Other reforms that members of the coalition want to see include deploying teams of specially trained mental health workers instead of police when a call for assistance involves someone who may be acting out or in need of help.

Montgomery County police declined to comment.

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