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Plea deal offered to Md. officer who fatally shot handcuffed man 6 times

Prince George’s police officer Michael Owen was charged with second-degree murder in the killing of William Green. The case led to pledges of police reform and a $20 million settlement for Green’s family.

Nikki Owens comforts her aunt, Brenda Green, whose son William Green was killed by a police officer, during a news conference in Largo, Md., on Sept. 28, 2020. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
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Prosecutors have offered a plea deal to a Maryland police officer who fatally shot a handcuffed man six times, an arrangement that could reduce the officer’s charges from second-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter and dramatically cut back a potential punishment, according to the victim’s family.

The proposal to Prince George’s County Cpl. Michael A. Owen Jr. — who had been the subject of multiple use-of-force investigations prior to the killing — was made days before he was set to go to trial in the 2020 killing of William Green. The potential plea agreement, which county prosecutors would not comment on and is not official unless accepted by a judge, has angered Green’s family and comes as the nation is roiling from the police killing of a Black man in Memphis.

Green’s family, who met with prosecutors on the anniversary of the date Owen was first charged to discuss the plea offer, said they are concerned that the lesser charge could make the police officer eligible for parole within a few years.

Prince George’s officer charged in fatal shooting of handcuffed man

“We wanted to go to court, and we still want to go to court,” said Brenda Green, William Green’s mother. “How could they do that when he actually killed my son? How could they do that?”

Owen’s attorney, Thomas Mooney, did not respond to a request for comment.

The police killing of Green, a father of two and Megabus luggage loader whose family called him “Boo Boo,” came just months before the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. As Americans across the country took to the streets to demand police accountability in the name of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Louisville police during a no-knock raid, people in majority-Black Prince George’s called for justice for Green. Three years later, the same tensions around race and policing have reignited in the killing of Tyre Nichols in Tennessee, whom officers beat and Tasered following a traffic stop in Memphis.

Black Memphis police spark dialogue on systemic racism in the U.S.

Nikki Owens, William Green’s cousin, said it has pained her family to see this play out around the third anniversary of Green’s death. The family has watched as the Memphis officers who beat Nichols were arrested and criminally charged with second-degree murder — the same initial charge against Owen in Prince George’s.

“I want the people in Memphis to know that just because they are arrested, that doesn’t mean they will pay for their crime,” Owens said.

On Jan. 27, 2020, police received a 911 call about a man driving a Buick that had struck several vehicles. Authorities eventually found the car in Temple Hills. Green was asleep inside.

Owen removed Green from the car, cuffed his hands behind his back and placed him in the front seat of a Prince George’s police cruiser to wait for a drug recognition expert, according to police records and interviews. A few minutes later, authorities said, Owen shot at Green seven times, with six shots hitting the man. The wounds, Green’s family said, were on both sides of his torso.

Family of man slain by Prince George’s police officer reaches $20 million settlement with county

The day after the shooting, Owen was charged in Green’s death — the first county officer charged with murder in connection with actions taken while on duty, officials said at the time. Nine months later, County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) would join Green’s family and their civil attorneys, Billy Murphy and Malcolm Ruff, for a news conference to announce a $20 million settlement in their case against the county — at the time one of the largest police misconduct payouts in the nation.

“Police are given by this community an awesome and tremendously difficult responsibility of protecting life,” Alsobrooks said at the September 2020 news conference. “They are also likewise given an authority that is not shared by anyone else in this community, and that is the authority to take life. . . . When that trust is abused, it is necessary to take swift and decisive action.”

Owen was not wearing a police-issued body camera at the time of the shooting, authorities said. Afterward, Owen said that Green had reached for the officer’s firearm and that he feared for his life. Prosecutors said then that there was no evidence Green had posed a serious threat.

But during their meeting with the state’s attorney’s office Saturday — in which top prosecutor Aisha Braveboy was not present — Green’s family said, they were told that the decision to reduce the charges had come after the discovery of new evidence, including Owen’s testimony.

Mooney, Owen’s attorney, has said in the past that authorities pressed the second-degree murder charge after a “rushed” investigation.

Green’s family said they felt hurt and frustrated that the decision was made without their consultation, and baffled that Braveboy — who campaigned on police accountability and whose office has tried nearly a dozen police misconduct cases during her tenure — would forgo a trial in one of the most high-profile police shooting cases in the county’s history.

“We expected him to come up with a defense,” said Owens, Green’s cousin. “We didn’t expect them to believe his defense so much that they are going to lower the charges.”

“I feel like, again, another state, the state of Maryland, is telling us that the life of a Black man doesn’t matter,” she said. “If my cousin was White, do I think this would be happening? Absolutely not. This is a slap in the face to us.”

More than 1,100 people have been shot and killed by police in the past 12 months

News of the possible plea deal comes one week after the state’s attorney’s office dropped charges against 14 different Prince George’s County police officers who were accused of participating in a double-dipping scheme and whose indictments were announced in a highly publicized news conference last year.

Since they received the $20 million settlement, Owens has said that no amount of money will bring her family justice. If they had to choose between the money and a public criminal trial, Owens and her aunt said, they would let the case play out in court.

“At no point did I try to mesh the civil and criminal cases,” Owens said. “They are separate things.”

The family said they were told that Owen could serve 20 years for the reduced charges, with 10 years suspended, and that he could be eligible for parole after five years. Owen has been behind bars for three years while awaiting trial.

After his arrest, the police department suspended Owen without pay. When asked for comment Tuesday, the police department said it is awaiting the outcome of criminal proceedings before moving forward its internal investigations and directed inquires about the plea deal to prosecutors.

In a 2020 investigation into Owen’s history with the department, where he had been an officer for 10 years, The Washington Post found that the department had missed opportunities to steer a struggling and errant officer back on course long before Green’s killing.

Owen had triggered the agency’s early-warning system by using force twice in quick succession the previous summer. It took months for the system, which relied on information being compiled by hand and entered into a database, to create the flag, police officials said. Owen’s supervisors weren’t formally notified until the month he killed Green, and they had not taken action.

In two other 2019 incidents, videos showed Owen with his hands on the necks of people he arrested. One of those incidents came less than a month before Green’s death.

Other Prince George’s residents who encountered Owen over the years also had accused him of brutality and a lack of professionalism. Several who were arrested by Owen, and who were accused of aggressive behavior toward him, had charges dropped because the officer did not show up for court proceedings — another sign of trouble.

Months before Cpl. Michael A. Owen Jr. fatally shot a man in handcuffs, an early-warning system flagged him

Experts who spoke to The Post said the sluggish pace of the early-warning system jeopardized officers as well as civilians like Green. Former Prince George’s County police chief Hank Stawinski — who ordered Owen arrested after the shooting — told The Post that he understood that the system was too slow and had been working to upgrade it.

Owen’s supervisors also were unaware he had sought workers’ compensation for psychological difficulties stemming from a fatal shooting early in his career, department officials said, even though Owen was supposed to notify them. This meant that while some parts of the county bureaucracy were aware of the claim, Owen’s supervisors — according to the department — were not.

Owen and the county are the subjects of a separate federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Murphy and Ruff on behalf of four people alleging that Owen abused them while working for the police department.

In 2021, Owen was also indicted in a federal criminal case alongside five other police officers for allegedly orchestrating false thefts of their debit cards or vehicles, then reporting those concocted thefts to authorities and their banks and insurance companies.