Gaithersburg rally calls attention to unresolved Jan. police shooting death of Black man

Family and friends of a man killed in a January encounter with Gaithersburg police held a rally Saturday afternoon, hoping to focus attention on the four-month-old police shooting as they demand a full accounting of exactly what happened.

Kwamena Ocran, 24, was shot and killed by Gaithersburg Police Jan. 8.

Gaithersburg Police Chief Mark Sroka initially said plain clothes officers believed that Ocran had a gun and approached him when he ran across Maryland Route 355 around 5:50 p.m., Friday, Jan. 8.

According to police, when they caught up with him at the Chelsea Park Apartments, he displayed a handgun and that is when one or more officers opened fired. Police said a handgun was found at the scene.

But days later police would change their account of events, saying Ocran never crossed over Route 355. Instead, they said, officers first encountered Ocran at the apartment complex.

“What we first reported was what we thought to have occurred,” Gaithersburg Police Spokesman Officer Dan Lane said in a March interview. “After further investigation, we found the incident to occur in the apartment complex.”

The family, who hasn’t seen the official police report of the officer-involved shooting, or the autopsy results, is demanding a full accounting of Ocran’s death.

“One of the things that’s unique about this case is the fact that the officers who were involved in the shooting were not required to wear the body-worn camera,” said Brian McDaniel, attorney to Ocran’s family. “He was not representing a threat to the officers, in fact he did not have a firearm in his hand at the time that he was shot.”

An attendee at the rally said she thinks city officials should get involved in the investigation.

“This happened right in our backyard, literally for me, right in my backyard … people can be disarmed, if he was armed in the first place, without being killed,” said Shanika Whitehurst of Gaithersburg, who attended the rally and recommends that the mayor and city council of Gaithersburg look into the incident.

The Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office is conducting the investigation into the police shooting, under a long-standing agreement in which all police shootings in Montgomery County are investigated by the neighboring agency, to provide a measure of independence.

The Howard County investigation will determine whether officers should be criminally charged.

Sroka said on the Friday night Ocran was killed “at least one officer” shot Ocran. Multiple witnesses at the scene reported hearing multiple, successive gun shots at the time of the shooting.

A rendering of Ocran’s body on the family’s Instagram account shows up to nine possible bullet wounds. The drawing was put together by family members based on their observations of Coran during a cleansing of his body before his burial at a mosque.

In late April, McDaniel met with Howard County Asst. State’s Attorney John Sandmann to get an update on the four-month investigation. McDaniel offered the names of potential witnesses who said they had seen the shooting, but haven’t been questioned by investigators.

“Our concern is that it does not appear the detectives who are responsible for the investigation have developed the same witnesses that our team has,” McDaniel said in a prior interview. “Kwamena did not have a firearm in his hand — nor did he represent any danger to the officers at the time they elected to use deadly force upon him.”

A spokesperson for Sandmann confirmed Howard County investigators were unaware of the alleged witnesses McDaniel identified.

“Our office was not aware of these witnesses,” spokeswoman Yolanda Vazquez said. “However, it is not uncommon for us to examine evidence that is provided by the victim’s family or other sources during the course of an investigation. When we evaluate a case, our sole mission is to be as thorough and accurate as possible.”

Melody Cooper, Ocran’s mother, said she was told by a Montgomery County homicide detective who conducted the initial internal investigation that Ocran was shot in the back. Cooper contends her son was shot in the back while running away from the police and that he never displayed a handgun — as police said he did.

A Montgomery County Police spokeswoman would not comment on the accusation when asked about it in January.

“Due to the ongoing investigation, there is no additional information that will be released at this time,” Sgt. Rebecca Innocenti said.

While Gaithersburg Police have never publicly described how Ocran allegedly displayed or brandished a weapon, Lane, the Gaithersburg Police spokesman, said police never said anything about Ocran pointing a gun at officers.

“I’m going to get justification for my son, and there is going to be repercussions for what they did,” Cooper said she told police in January.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

Glynis Kazanjian

Glynis Kazanjian has been a freelance writer covering Maryland politics and government on the local, state and federal for the last 11 years. Her work is published in Maryland Matters, the Baltimore Post Examiner, Bethesda Beat and Md. Reporter. She has also worked as a true crime researcher.

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