This summer, amid the national outcry over police misconduct that followed the death of George Floyd in police custody, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) formed a police reform work group. Its tasks include examining hiring, training and use-of-force practices in the department, which is the subject of a lawsuit in which police officers of color have alleged discrimination.
The department also came under scrutiny earlier this year when then-Officer Michael A. Owen Jr. fatally shot a handcuffed man in the front seat of his police cruiser. Owen, who was charged with second-degree murder, had been flagged by the department’s early warning system months before he fatally shot William Green, but his supervisors were not quickly notified.
Tracy Shand, whose brother died a year ago Saturday, said her grief is still raw. She decided to speak Friday in front of the county executive’s building in Largo and testified earlier in the week in Annapolis, where the state legislature is considering a broad array of changes, including repealing the law enforcement officer’s bill of rights. That provision grants workplace protections to police, including in conduct inquiries.
Josette Blocker, the aunt of Demonte Ward-Blake, who was paralyzed after an officer pulled him to the ground during a traffic stop in October, said she wants to see the law enforcement officer’s bill of rights repealed and more transparency added to Maryland’s public information act law. That law classifies disciplinary records as personnel matters, prohibiting the department from making them public unless they are obtained through discovery in a court proceeding.
“We need to abolish the laws that aren’t meant to protect us,” Blocker said Friday.
She and others at the news conference also want the release of the unredacted report of an expert witness who concluded systems of discrimination and retaliation exist within Prince George’s police department, along with updated information about how much the county has spent defending itself in the lawsuit.
Alsobrooks spokeswoman Gina Ford said in a statement that those matters are being handled in court.
“We are confident that the litigation process will ensure fairness for all parties involved,” she said. “In addition, the County Executive continues to look broadly at ways to improve the department, as the Police Reform Work Group continues its work.”
Activist Kema Hutchinson-Harris said that in a majority-Black county whose leaders are mostly Black, and have discussed in sometimes deeply personal terms how they have been affected by police misconduct, there should be more recognition that action, not words, is what is needed in this moment.
“You would think it would matter more to them that our sons, our daughters, even our older people, are dying,” she said.