The police officer who shot and killed a handcuffed man inside a cruiser Monday night in Prince George’s County, Maryland, has been charged with murder.
Police Chief Hank Stawinski announced Tuesday that he had asked the special investigations response team to charge Cpl. Michael Owen Jr. with second-degree murder, manslaughter and associated weapons charges in connection with the death of William Howard Green, 43, of Southeast D.C.
In a news conference Tuesday, Stawinski said Monday night’s “unprecedented” events necessitated unprecedented actions.
“I am unable to come to our community and offer you a reasonable explanation for the events that occurred last night,” said Stawinski, who called the fatal shooting the most difficult moment in his tenure as chief.
He also said that as the investigation progressed, three facts changed from what was initially shared.
A spokeswoman initially said that police smelled what they believed to be PCP on Green. Stawinski said Tuesday that police now believe PCP was not involved.
Police have not corroborated that two independent witnesses saw a struggle inside the cruiser; they were also unable to confirm if Green was wearing a seat belt.
Stawinski said that the department does not yet have a thorough and complete account of what happened, and the fundamental details are the basis of the probable cause to charge Owen.
Stawinski said that charging Owen was the “only appropriate cause of action under these circumstances … what happened last night was a crime.”
Police caught up with Green in Temple Hills around 8 p.m. on Monday, after responding to a report that a vehicle struck several cars in the Silver Hill area.
Officers approached Green and removed him from his car. At the time, police believed that he was under the influence.
They handcuffed him and placed him in the front passenger seat of Owen’s cruiser, while they waited for a drug recognition expert, as officers were concerned about Green’s level of impairment.
Owen then got in the driver’s seat next to Green. A short time later, Owen shot Green seven times with his duty weapon.
Owen and another officer took Green out of the cruiser and performed lifesaving measures on him before he was taken to a hospital where he later died.
Police are investigating what led to the shooting.
Owen, a 10-year veteran of Prince George’s County police, also fatally shot a man in 2011 in Palmer Park. During that incident Owen was leaving the department’s Toys for Tots event when he saw Rodney Edwards lying on the side of the road. Owen went to assist him but then Edwards pointed a gun at him. Owen shot and killed him.
During the most recent fatal shooting Owen was not wearing a body camera.
“There is absolutely nothing that is acceptable about this incident,” Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said during the news conference.
She said that last year’s county budget funded body cameras for officers and the process of building infrastructure for them has begun. Body cameras will be accounted for in this year’s budget, as well.
Alsobrooks said that she has asked Stawinski to order an independent review of the department’s training practice and methods.
Questions arose as to why Green was placed in the front passenger seat. Spokeswoman Christina Cotterman said Monday that it was typical to put suspects in the front passenger seat when they are taken for processing to the county’s detention center.
In a news release, police referenced the section of the directive officers follow where it says:
One officer may transport one arrestee, who will occupy the right front seat. For vehicles equipped with transport partitions, arrestees will occupy the right rear seat.
Owen’s cruiser did not have a partition.
“You have my assurance that all our methods and practices will be examined as this investigation proceeds,” Stawinski said.
Owen was placed on administrative leave before the announcement that he would be charged.
Police took Owen into custody Tuesday afternoon. Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said that Owen will be in court later this week for a bond review.