Montgomery County police say they are still investigating the “concerning incident” last week related to a video showing a white officer using a racial slur during an encounter with four African American men and will release additional information as it is “developed and confirmed.”
The Montgomery County Council sent a strongly worded letter this week to acting police chief Russ Hamill about the May 9 incident outside a McDonald’s restaurant in the White Oak section of Silver Spring. In it, the council said the officer’s body-camera video — showing her saying the n-word, then telling the men she was quoting their own use of the language — appeared to violate “department protocol and standards that we would expect of county-employed personnel.”
The letter, signed by all nine council members, went on to question the actions of at least one other officer who is seen on the body-camera video, which police released after one of the detained men posted his own video of the incident on social media. The letter said the “tone, language and actions of the sergeant on the scene was also contemptible.”
The footage has sparked outrage from some community groups, including a march and protest Monday to the police’s 3rd District station. But Torrie Cooke, president of the union that represents Montgomery police officers, said in a statement the officer’s “use of the term appears to be absent any racial or discriminatory intent” and noted the men interacting with the officers used the word before the officer did.
“As an African American police officer and the President of the Fraternal Order of Police, it is disturbing to hear the use of the n-word by male subjects referring to African American and White officers on the scene, and the female police officer repeating the word during a lapse in good judgment and composure,” Cooke wrote on the website of FOP Lodge 35.
His statement said the word should not have been used by anyone: “An objective viewer is hard-pressed to give deference to the males in the video who liberally use the n-word and are offended when their words are repeated back to them.”
The all-Democratic council, in its letter, asked Hamill how he intends to address the issues raised by the incident, whether the trespassing notices the police gave to the four men could be rescinded and how the culture in the police department may need to be changed.
The letter also requested a voluminous amount of additional information, including:
•Body-camera footage from every officer who responded to the 10:30 a.m. incident and calls related to the incident.
•More information on a program that allows business owners to authorize police to stop and question people for trespassing on their private property.
•All trespassing citations issued in the past two years in which no arrest or other charges were brought.
•Demographic and geographic statistics of everyone who has been stopped and frisked and cited for trespassing in the past two years.
•Additional information on the department's stop-and-frisk and racial-profiling policies.
“I’ve spoken to our county attorneys, and it’s my understanding everything we’ve asked for should be able to be released and given to us,” said council member Will Jawando (D-At Large), who initiated the letter.
In its statement late Thursday, the police department said it understood the concerns of the council members and others and had immediately opened an Internal Affairs investigation once the incident came to light. “The Department has been gathering further information and data as well as evaluating training and policies as the investigation and review of the incident proceeds,” the statement read. “The requests for information by members of the Council and others, while not routine, will be handled consistent with laws and policies applicable to the release of information.”
County Executive Marc Elrich (D), who has said the incident “violated the standards which we expect our officers to uphold,” also requested the release of more body-camera footage. He said Friday he was told the footage “is going through redaction.”
The police union said Friday that neither it nor the union members involved objected to the release of the footage. Police have not released the name of the female officer or said whether her duties have changed. But Elrich said Thursday that the officer is still working, but is not on patrol.
Jawando and Council member Craig Rice (D-District 2) met Monday with two of the men who were detained. The men have said they went to McDonald’s for breakfast the morning of the incident, then left the restaurant to wait for their ride to a landscaping job. It was then that the sergeant approached them, questioning them about loitering. About six more officers appeared. All four men were given trespassing notices, and two also received civil citations for having a small amount of marijuana, according to a police spokesman.
It was during that encounter that one of the men began taking a video on his cellphone, showing the female officer using the racial slur, along with some other comments Jawando said he found troubling.
Jawando said the men have since told him they have lost their jobs as a result of the encounter.