Community demands answers weeks after man is partially paralyzed during Pr. George’s arrest

A town hall-style meeting at the Reid Temple Church on police and community relations draws a large turnout on Nov. 4. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)

Weeks after a Prince George’s County, Maryland, man suffered a debilitating injury over the course of his arrest, community members demanded answers and solutions Monday at a town-hall style meeting on policing.

Oxon Hill resident Demonte Ward-Blake’s partial paralysis during an Oct. 17 arrest by Prince George’s County police sparked an urgent conversation over community relations with law enforcement — an outcry which continued to unfold Monday night at the Reid Temple AME Church in Glenn Dale.

“My first thought as a pastor is to pray for him and his family,” said the Rev. Mark Whitlock. “Before being arrested, he walked with both legs. After the arrest, he is paralyzed for the rest of his life.”

The arrest, which followed a traffic stop in Oxon Hill, is the subject of two separate investigations in the county. Responding to community concerns two days after the incident, Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski said he had no information to suggest that the man’s injury was anything but the result of a “horrible, horrible accident.”

Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s County Chapter NAACP, is among the members of the public who has seen police dash-cam video of the arrest. But Ross said the injury occurred outside the view of the police vehicle camera.

The incident has renewed calls for the county to greatly expand its use of body-worn cameras by officers. There are as few as 80 being used in a test program by a department of about 1,800 police officers.

“They ought to immediately get the body cameras, and this garbage about ‘wait till another budget cycle’ is ridiculous,” Ross said.

The dash cam video Ross said he saw showed that Ward-Blake at first appeared calm and peacefully submitted to being handcuffed.

“When he got out of sight of the dash cam, all hell broke loose — so what would cause a man that was very peaceful, and when they get outside the camera, to decide he wants to escape,” Ross said.

Stawinski said that Ward-Blake was injured trying to escape, when an officer grabbed him by the arm, causing to fall and thus injuring his neck.

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha N. Braveboy told the town hall-style meeting that body-worn cameras “make sense in modern-day America,” and she said that criminal juries, these days, expect to see video from police body cams.

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