Greenbelt police played body-camera footage at a news conference Wednesday showing the encounter officers had with a man reported to be suicidal before they shot and wounded him on May 2. The footage shows two officers firing at the man who had a knife in his hand.
The incident began around 10:30 a.m. in the unit block of Plateau Place in Greenbelt, when officers responded to Littlefield’s call for a “suicidal adult male,” police said.
In Thomas’s body-camera footage, Thomas knocks on a door. Littlefield is seen opening the door with one of his hands behind his back. Thomas says in the video, “Hey, how you doing, sir? … You don’t mind if we come in, do you?”
Then, Thomas sees a knife in Littlefield’s hand.
“Oh, you have a knife in your hand, sir,” Thomas said. “Sir, please drop the knife.” Thomas repeats the command.
Littlefield steps out of the doorway with the knife displayed, and both officers fire.
Another angle of Littlefield with a knife in his hand is seen from the body camera of Arnold, who is positioned to the side near the doorstep and by a tree. Arnold says “Male has a knife” before shots are fired.
Police said Littlefield “rapidly exited” and was moving toward the officers with the six-inch knife, changing to an “overhand grip” and raising the weapon. From the first knock on the door to the last shot fired, the incident lasted 21 seconds, police spokeswoman Hannah Glasgow said.
Greenbelt Police Chief Richard Bowers said at the news conference that the distance between Littlefield and the officers was about “three or four feet.” Arnold and Thomas each fired five rounds.
The officers were equipped with secondary weapons including a Taser, chemical spray and a baton, Bowers said.
“You have to use the type of force that’s presented to you,” Bowers said in addressing the use of a firearm instead of secondary weapons. “In this case, a knife is a deadly weapon … your response immediately would be to defend your life.”
Bowers said the department has been working to establish a co-responder program that pairs officers with mental health professionals, along with the mental health and crisis intervention training officers receive.
“One of our goals as an organization is to find different ways to handle them [calls for service] and that will be part of that co-responder model that we’re doing here in the city,” Bowers said. “That’s something that we see, in a shift in law enforcement across the nation, particularly in response to mental health calls, and how do we get services to people that need services.”
The residential area along Plateau Place was quiet Wednesday afternoon. Neighbors of Littlefield declined to comment when asked about the incident.
Police said Littlefield’s family members asked not to be contacted by the news media. The body-camera footage will not be released to the public, Bowers said.
“In general with police shootings, the ACLU of Maryland calls for a full investigation that is transparent to the community, along with public release of any body-camera footage,” Meredith Curtis Goode, a spokeswoman for the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement. “And also, in the case of situations across Maryland where there is a 911 call for a person who is reportedly suicidal or experiencing a mental health crisis, we see again and again that the response is solely or primarily a police response, without professional mental health support, and the person is shot and too often killed.”
Prince George’s County police are investigating Littlefield’s actions and Greenbelt police are investigating the officers’ actions. Both probes are ongoing.