Police initially said there were witness reports of a struggle inside Owen’s cruiser. But in court documents filed Wednesday, police said they could find no signs of a struggle between Owen and Green, and no weapon on Green. The officer “shot someone seven times who was absolutely no threat and had his hands behind his back,” Assistant State’s Attorney Renee Joy said during Owen’s bond hearing.
Prince George’s County District Judge Robert W. Heffron Jr. agreed with prosecutors that Owen was a “danger to the community” and ordered him held without bond. Green’s family members, who filled the benches of the courtroom Wednesday, briefly applauded when the judge announced his decision. Green’s fiancee cried when the state’s attorney presented the case.
Owen’s attorney, Jonathon Scruggs, asked that Owen be released ahead of trial. Scruggs argued that Owen was not just someone “off the street” alleged to have committed a violent crime but rather an officer involved in an incident while discharging his duties. He said Owen has no record of prior convictions, no history of failing to appear and is active in the community and his church.
Owen, who has 10 years’ service on the force, was involved with two earlier shootings, one of them fatal, records show. Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) has assigned a prosecutor to review the 2011 fatal shooting at the request of the victim’s family, according to spokeswoman Denise Smith.
In that case, Owen fatally shot 35-year-old Rodney Deron Edwards. Owen told investigators in December 2011 that while in uniform, he had pulled over his unmarked van to help a man lying in the grass near Greenleaf Road in Palmer Park, and that Edwards then pulled a gun on him, according to police. A loaded revolver was found at the scene, police said at the time.
Prince George’s Police Chief Hank Stawinski announced the murder charge Tuesday night, less than a day after the incident, saying that after the department’s investigation, he recommended detectives seek charges against his officer.
“I am unable to come to our community this evening and offer you a reasonable explanation for the events that occurred last night,” said Stawinski, who called the moment the most difficult of his tenure as chief in the Washington suburb.
Owen was arrested Tuesday evening and spent the night in the Prince George’s jail. He is charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and associated weapons charges.
Owen’s family could not be reached for comment.
The statement of probable cause filed by police said Owen was dispatched to a “traffic accident with injury” near Saint Barnabas Road and Winston Street shortly after 7 p.m. Monday. An unidentified witness told Owen and a second officer that Green’s vehicle had struck several parked vehicles and that he was still in his car, sleeping. Green was removed from his car “and appeared to be under the influence of an unknown substance,” Lt. Michael Ebaugh wrote in the statement.
Joy said Green was compliant with officers throughout. He was patted down, handcuffed behind his back and put in the patrol car. Prince George’s police policy calls for prisoners to be placed in the front seat when there is no barrier between the front and rear seats, and there was none in Owen’s cruiser.
The statement said that “approximately 5-10 minutes later,” another officer heard gunshots and walked to Owen’s vehicle, where he observed Green “suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.”
Police found that Owen had fired his weapon seven times, striking Green “multiple times,” Ebaugh wrote. No other weapons were found, and investigators “failed to uncover any evidence of an altercation” between the officer and Green, the statement notes.
Green was pulled from the car, still handcuffed, and taken to United Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Angelo Consoli, president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge for Prince George’s County, said Wednesday that “the incident itself is a tragedy for everyone that’s involved. We do extend our sincere sympathies to the family of Mr. Green.”
Consoli added, “We ask that the members of the community do not prejudge [Owen], and they allow due process to unfold and trust that the criminal justice system will ultimately decide if the actions of Cpl. Owen were justified or a crime.”
Owen is not among the 80 Prince George’s officers equipped with a body camera, prompting an outcry from Green’s family, advocates and some county officials who said the full rollout of body cameras is long overdue. Stawinski and Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) both said at a Tuesday night news conference that they supported body cameras. Alsobrooks said they would be funded in the upcoming budget.
John Mathis, the son of Green’s fiancee, said multiple witnesses captured the encounter with police on cellphone videos, which are in the family’s possession.
Mathis said one of the videos shows police officers attempting to wake Green after his car crashed as he was headed home from dinner at a restaurant. Mathis said a second video shows Green in handcuffs after being removed from the car that crashed; he was going in and out of consciousness. A third video shows Green after he has been pulled from the police cruiser after being shot, Mathis said.
The statement of probable cause does not say what statements, if any, Owen made to police, either at the scene or in any subsequent interviews, about why he fired his gun. As potential criminal defendants in such cases, police officers are not required to give statements to criminal investigators, as their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination allows. They are required to cooperate with internal-affairs investigations, but those statements cannot be used against them in court because they are compelled statements, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.
“I have seen a lot of horrible fatal police shootings, but this one is in the top 10,” said William “Billy” Murphy, the Green family’s lawyer.
Stawinski said bringing such serious charges against an officer within 24 hours of an incident is “unprecedented” for the department. Charging an officer before a full criminal investigation has been completed is extremely rare. Federal prosecutors recently took two years before deciding not to file charges against two U.S. Park Police officers who fatally shot unarmed motorist Bijan Ghaisar in an encounter captured on video.
In 2009, a person tried to rob Owen outside his home in the Greenbelt area, police said. Owen was off duty when the would-be robber shot through a hooded sweatshirt he was wearing, according to police officials. Owen, whose body was not hit by the gunfire, fired back, and the robber fled, police said.
Dana Hedgpeth, Justin Jouvenal and Alice Crites contributed to this report.