An FBI agent shot a man as the two rode aboard a Metro Red Line train in Maryland this week, a spokesman for the transit system said Thursday afternoon, as officials remained tight-lipped about the case.
Authorities have still not provided details about what transpired before the shooting.
The case remains under investigation by the Metro Transit Police, the FBI and the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, Jannetta said.
The basic facts he provided, just after 3 p.m. Thursday, came about 56 hours after the shooting during the morning commute near Metro’s Medical Center station.
For its part, the FBI has said only that one of its agents had been “involved” in a shooting. The FBI would not say who fired a weapon, the medical condition of the person wounded, what led to the shooting or the name of the agent involved over more than two days of inquiries from The Washington Post. The FBI would not even answer questions whether the person who was sent to the hospital was still alive.
The investigation comes as police departments nationwide are under pressure to be more transparent about shootings involving their officers and are facing scrutiny over the use of force.
A police reform group based in Montgomery County criticized the slow and limited release of details in the case.
“The Silver Spring Justice Coalition is angry at the lack of transparency in this shooting in Bethesda,” said Katie Stauss, interim co-chair of the group. “We expect our local leaders to raise hell about the failure to disclose the circumstances of this shooting.”
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy declined to say what may have transpired before the shooting or led to the shooting.
“I have absolutely no comment about the facts of the case because it is an active investigation,” he said.
McCarthy said there are two separate investigations underway: One is being conducted by his office and the Metro Transit Police Department; a second is being done by the FBI.
“They are separate and distinct,” McCarthy said. “Our investigation is not a joint investigation with the FBI.”
Although ridership is down because of the pandemic, there are few spaces more public than the Metro system during commuting hours. The shooting shut down a station and disrupted service for many riders Tuesday morning.
The incident unfolded about 7 a.m., when transit police received a report of “an FBI agent-involved shooting aboard a Red Line train near Medical Center,” Jannetta said.
Jannetta also said that “a gunshot wound victim was taken from Medical Center Station.” He said Metro Transit Police and the FBI were investigating.
The FBI later issued a statement, which read in total:
“The FBI is reviewing an Agent-Involved Shooting which occurred earlier this morning aboard a Red Line train near Medical Center, Montgomery County, Maryland. One individual was wounded and since transported to a local area hospital for medical assistance.
“The FBI takes all shooting incidents involving our agents seriously. In accordance with FBI policy, the shooting incident is under investigation by the FBI’s Inspection Division. The review process is thorough and objective and is conducted as expeditiously as possible under the circumstances. As this remains an ongoing matter, the FBI has no further comment.”
Neither agency would officially clarify to The Post who fired a weapon in the initial 48 hours after the shooting.
Hans Riemer, a member of the Montgomery County Council who serves on its Transportation and Environment Committee, called the late and limited release of information unacceptable.
“The community has the right to know what happened, who was involved. Metro should release video footage if they have it,” said Riemer (D-At Large). “It’s alarming that a shooting could happen on the Metro without more information released.”
The lack of information follows a pattern in the Washington area of different levels of disclosure for officer-involved shootings.
When a shooting involves a local officer, police departments typically release basic information about the victim and shooter soon after the incident, and more about each person as the case unfolds. When police in Prince William County, Va., fatally shot a man last week, they provided extensive details about the incident and the name of the victim, although they have not yet named the officers.
Other local jurisdictions in the area also provide more information about shootings by police. In the District, a new law mandates that D.C. police make public body-camera video within five business days of a deadly or serious use-of-force incident, and identify the officers directly involved. When police fatally shot an 18-year-old man in September, D.C. police made video available the next day, which helped calm tensions.
After a shooting in Fairfax County on Thursday, the police department there offered a basic outline of details leading up to the incident within less than two hours of the event: Officers responded to a report of a person who had been shot shortly before 11 a.m., when “they got into confrontation with a gunman and he was shot.”
But when a federal agency is involved, transparency is often an afterthought. After two U.S. Park Police officers fatally shot a man in 2017, both the Park Police and the FBI maintained rigorous silence about the case for two years. For many years, the Park Police has refused to release the names of officers involved in shootings.
Police officials said the differing constituencies of local police and federal agencies create a different dynamic, with more urgency for local police when one of their officers is involved.
“The community feels like they have a stake in it” when a local officer has shot someone, said former Montgomery County police chief J. Thomas Manger. “They have a real interest in these kinds of use of force and these kinds of cases, and they want accountability. I wonder sometimes if, because it’s a federal agent, that they don’t feel that same connection.”
Manger, also the former head of the national Major Cities Chiefs Association, said he felt that any police agency, whether federal, state or local, “has an obligation to be forthcoming about any use of force, especially deadly force.”
Police departments nationwide have grown more forthcoming in recent years about their shooting incidents, often releasing video soon after the event.
But federal agencies “don’t feel the same pressure that a local police chief feels,” Manger said. “A local police chief feels a very deep obligation to keep the community informed, to be transparent about the investigation into these cases. That means releasing the name of the officer or agent involved.”
If a police chief withheld information after a shooting, Manger said, “the local council, the local mayor are going to demand something be done. The public’s going to demand something be done. The people that would have to exert pressure on the Justice Department, or the Interior Department, that’s Congress. You think they’re exerting pressure? I don’t think they are.”
Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D), who represent the area in Congress, did not respond to messages seeking comment Thursday.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) offered a brief statement, saying that he has been “monitoring the situation closely” and that his office has been in touch with the FBI and Metro to seek more information.
“Both agencies must conduct a thorough, fair, and transparent investigation, and I’ll be pressing them to keep the public better informed on this matter,” Van Hollen said.
In November 2017, two U.S. Park Police officers shot Bijan Ghaisar, a 25-year-old Fairfax County, Va., man, after a pursuit and several traffic stops. The Park Police issued a news release after the shooting with bare details of the incident and then never discussed it again. The agency did not reveal Ghaisar’s name or the officers’ names, or why the officers shot Ghaisar. The FBI took over the investigation after three days and then did not release any information for two years.
Ghaisar’s family said they were never given any information from Park Police or the FBI, and were not told how public information would be handled. They learned that their son had been shot by the Park Police by watching the news in a hospital waiting room. Ten days after the shooting, it was the family — not the Park Police or FBI — that announced Ghaisar’s death.Family members learned the officers’ names only after filing a civil suit against the Park Police, and they learned details of the incident only because a third agency — the Fairfax County police — released an in-car video of the pursuit and shooting, over the FBI’s objections.
Peter Hermann and Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.