A Maryland county reached a $ 20 million settlement with the family of an unarmed black man who was fatally shot and killed by a police corporal when he was handcuffed in a patrol car in January, officials said Monday. The number announced on Sunday makes it one of the largest settlements in a case where a police officer was killed.
“There is no reasonable price tag to accompany a loss like this, but we believe that the action taken against Mr. Green and ultimately his family that night justifies this settlement,” said Angela D. Alsobrooks, the district chief of Prince George̵
Ms. Alsobrooks, a former prosecutor, noted that the police “have a great and extremely difficult responsibility for protecting life from this community.”
“And when that trust is betrayed, it is necessary to act quickly and decisively,” she added.
Sergeant Michael Owen Jr., a 10-year veteran of the Prince George Police Department, shot and killed William H. Green, 43, multiple times on Jan. 27 while Mr. Green’s hands were behind his back and when he was handcuffed in the front seat of a parked police cruiser, officials said.
Officials said Corporal Owen, who is black, fired seven shots from his patrol car, six of which hit Mr. Green and killed him.
Mr. Green, a father of two who worked for Megabus, had been run over and handcuffed on suspicion of driving under the influence of several cars, the police chief said.
Corporal Owen was waiting for another officer to arrive to check Mr. Green for drugs when he opened fire.
An initial police report indicated that the shooting was preceded by a fight. However, after reviewing the events, investigators concluded that there was “no plausible explanation for how Mr Green might have tried to control the weapon,” Ms. Alsobrooks said.
Within 24 hours of the murder, officers accused Corporal Owen of the second degree murder. It was the first time a county police officer has been charged with the murder of someone on duty, Alsobrooks said.
Corporal Owen, who remains suspended without pay, has also been charged with voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, first-degree assault and using a gun to commit a violent crime.
“I decided that he should not be treated any differently from any other person who had just shot someone multiple times without explanation, as there are no two justice systems,” said Ms. Alsobrooks.
The county has been mediating with the Green family and their lawyers for several months. The separate criminal case against Corporal Owen continues, Alsobrooks said. Corporal Owen was in jail from Monday afternoon, according to the district, waiting for the trial. His attorney could not be immediately reached for comment, but he told the Washington Post that the charges against Corporal Owen were based on “unfounded or discounted facts and hastily misguided assumptions.”
William H. Murphy Jr., one of the family’s lawyers, said the settlement reflected the “hideous nature, the brutal nature, the pointless nature of what happened to Mr. Green”. He said while some could question the settlement amount, doing so would most likely cost the county less than going to court, while freeing the family from waiting years for a solution.
Malcolm P. Ruff, another family lawyer, said the settlement should be interpreted as a message that “unlawful police violence against unarmed black men should not go without severe punishment and that our communities will no longer advocate it.”
At the press conference, Shelly Green, Mr. Green’s 21-year-old daughter, lamented the loss of her father, whom she described as the “glue” that holds the family together.
“He was always there,” she said. “Now I am alone without him to find out my life.”
In 2011, the department put then-officer Corporal Owen on administrative leave after he shot and killed a black man from Landover, Md., Who police said had a gun pointed at him. Police said he pulled over to the side of the road to check on the man who was on the grass.
In June, Prince George’s chief of police, Hank Stawinski, resigned after the American Civil Liberties Union released a detailed report documenting how black and brown police officers were discriminated against by the division. In response to the report, the county also set up a task force to reconsider other aspects of policing, such as the use of force.
As part of the deal, the Green family will be invited to contact the Police Reform Working Group, which the county says is helping find a new police chief.
The $ 20 million figure is not unprecedented in one police misconduct case. For example, last year the city of Minneapolis offered the family of an unarmed Australian woman $ 20 million who was killed by police after she called 911 to report what she thought the sounds of an assaulted woman were. It remains the largest in Maryland history and the third largest in the country, according to Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, the law firm that represents the Green family.