A veteran police officer who used his gun to try to smash a window wound up shooting an unarmed driver in a Montgomery County parking lot when the weapon accidentally went off, police officials said Tuesday.
The driver survived the Nov. 5 shooting.
The officer, Todd Archer, will not be criminally charged, according to authorities, but he remains under administrative investigation by the Montgomery Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division.
“Questions remain as to why a firearm was used to try to break the glass, and why the firearm discharged,” the Montgomery department said in a statement.
Archer, who has been an officer for 10 years with the Montgomery force, remains on paid administrative leave. Officials have not identified the man who was shot. They are arranging to have him, his family and their representatives view a video recording of the shooting captured by Archer’s body-worn camera.
Montgomery Police Chief J. Thomas Manger has reviewed the video. “I don’t believe the officer intended to shoot this man,” Manger said, but added that “a number of questions remain about what happened.”
Morgan Blackledge, an attorney for Archer, said her client rendered aid to the SUV driver immediately after the gunshot. But she declined Tuesday to speak in detail about the case until the administrative investigation is complete.
“All I can say is that Officer Archer is a dedicated member of the Montgomery County Police Department and will continue to serve the citizens of Montgomery County,” Blackledge said.
Chuck Drago, a national expert on police use of force, said that, in general, officers should not use guns to smash windows.
“A gun isn’t a tool for hitting or banging or ramming. It’s designed for one thing, to shoot a bullet,” he said.
One particular concern, he said, is that when someone uses a gun to strike something, there is a reflexive reaction: “You tend to clench your fist, which includes your trigger finger,” Drago said.
The incident began with a 911 call to police at about 8:20 p.m. Nov. 5 from a motorist saying his car was being rammed in a parking lot by an SUV.
Archer was the first officer to arrive at the lot at Veirs Mill and Randolph roads, an area of the county between Wheaton and Rockville, police said. He saw a Cadillac Escalade driving up against the back of a Camry, the car described by the 29-year-old caller to 911. It appeared that the SUV driver thought the other car was blocking his exit from the parking lot, police officials said, when in reality the car was pinned against a curb.
Archer got out of his patrol car, approached the Escalade and drew his weapon, according to police accounts. It’s not clear how well Archer could see into the SUV or why he thought he needed to break the window.
Police did not detail the exchange, including any conversation between Archer and the driver, or how much time passed between the officer’s arrival and when he began hitting the driver’s side window with his gun.
The Escalade driver, who was 52 at the time, was hit by one round when Archer’s gun discharged.
More officers arrived, and they provided first aid to the driver, police officials said. He was taken to a hospital and treated for what police said were serious but not life-threatening injuries.
Detectives from the Montgomery force investigated the shooting and turned over their findings to Howard County prosecutors in the neighboring jurisdiction. Under a recent agreement between the counties, prosecutors in one county review police-involved shootings in the other county. The agreement is meant to guard against perceived conflicts of interests because police and prosecutors work so closely within their own jurisdictions.
The Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office examined the case and concluded that “Officer Archer’s actions do not rise to the level of recklessness needed to pursue any criminal charges,” according to Montgomery police officials. Howard prosecutors concluded they would not take further action in the case.
The driver of the Escalade will not be charged, Montgomery officials said. Manger said the department would release more information after it completes its internal investigation.
Drago, the use-of-force expert, said police training academies cannot be expected to explicitly tell students everything they must not do. Or, as he said: “It may not be on the syllabus: ‘Tell cop not to break window with gun.’ ”
But the general instructions of not using a gun as a tool are widespread, he said.
Drago said there could be a rare exception when officers would be justified in using a gun to try to break a window — if they believed lives were in immediate peril and nothing else was at the ready.
A preferred instrument, Drago said, would be a baton. “Maybe he didn’t have it. Maybe he couldn’t get to it,” Drago said.