Owen had a bail review hearing Wednesday and is charged with second-degree murder in the death of William Green, 43, of Southeast Washington.
The hearing was held by video conference because of the coronavirus pandemic, which Owen’s lawyer, Thomas C. Mooney, cited as one of the reasons his client should be released on bond. He said Owen has showed no symptoms associated with the coronavirus, but other inmates in the facility where he’s being held have.
“There are safety concerns within the community, but there are greater safety concerns within close quarters, and prisons happen to be a potential petri dish,” Mooney said.
Owen is being held outside of Prince George’s County. Officials declined to say where, citing concern for his safety because he is an officer.
Owen listened to Wednesday’s hearing by phone, saying little but assuring his lawyer at one point that he could hear. Mooney said his client has been praying every day with an officer at the jail and “continues to hold his head up and looks forward to a resolution to this case.”
Green’s mother, daughter and son watched the hearing from a conference room with their two attorneys. All wore protective masks.
“This family is utterly hurting,” said Green family lawyer Malcolm P. Ruff. “It gets me a little bit emotional to think about how he was just taken away from them seemingly for no good reason at all.”
Prince George’s Circuit Court Judge Michael R. Pearson, who was unpersuaded by Mooney’s argument that Owen is not a danger to the community, said he found the circumstances of the case “shocking to the conscience.”
“We have an individual who was under arrest, who was handcuffed in the front seat of a squad car, and seven shots were discharged in his immediate direction,” Pearson said. “That alone is probably shocking to a level that I find very difficult to properly articulate.”
Mooney said that after Green crashed his Buick into a woman’s car, she followed him for a “six-to seven-minute drive.” During the pursuit, Green damaged several other cars and finally stopped when he hit a tree and mailbox. The woman used her car to block him from escape.
“Citizens from the area, people who witnessed the event, whose cars were struck, came out, and a scene ensued,” Mooney said. “There were people who were upset about damage to their vehicles. There were people upset about police presence in the area.”
Owen and another officer found Green asleep or incoherent behind the wheel, Mooney said. They suspected he was on PCP, a hallucinogenic associated with violent behavior. Preliminary results from a toxicology test indicated Green did have PCP in his system, prosecutors have said.
The officers patted Green down, cuffed him and put him in the front seat of Owen’s patrol car, which did not have a screen separating back from front, officials say.
Mooney quoted a statement of probable cause from the incident describing Green as acting “irrationally.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Renee Joy said after the officers woke Green up, “he was nothing but compliant.”
Owen got into the patrol car’s driver’s seat, and minutes later shots were fired, Mooney said.
Mooney highlighted an early police report saying there was a struggle inside the car. Joy said her office has found no evidence of a struggle. But she said Green was not buckled in and appears to have moved, based on a finding that he was shot on his right side as well as his left.
“There is an entrance wound on Mr. Green’s right side,” Joy said. “There had to have been some sort of pause, because then there are five entrance wounds on Mr. Green’s left side.”
Mooney read from a statement Owen made to authorities that Mooney obtained from prosecutors, which said: “While on duty, a suspect attempted to obtain my firearm. In fear for my life, I discharged my departmental handgun at the suspect.”
Mooney fingered air quotes around the word “investigation” in describing the probe that led to what he called a “knee-jerk charge” against his client. He said he is “excited to get this case moving.”
A Green family lawyer, William “Billy” Murphy, disputed the idea that Green posed a lethal threat to Owen.
“All he had to do was open the driver’s side door of the car and step out onto the sidewalk to safety,” Murphy said. “He didn’t have to shoot anybody.”
This month, a grand jury also indicted Owen on charges of manslaughter, assault, use of a handgun and misconduct in office.
Joy said Green posed no threat to Owen. “It was actually quite the opposite,” she said. “He was in one of the most vulnerable positions that he could be in because he was seated and handcuffed behind his back.”
She said Owen is no different from other prisoners charged with violent crimes.
“While the coronavirus may be a threat to the inmates, these inmates still need to be considered a threat to the citizens of Prince George’s County,” Joy said.