A conservative legal group has sued a Maryland police department for copies of any body camera videos of a fatal shooting of a man whose family says he was asleep in his bedroom when police opened fire.
Judicial Watch Inc. filed its lawsuit against the Montgomery County Police Department, which hasn’t publicly acknowledged whether it captured any video of the March 12 shooting of Duncan Lemp. The 21-year-old man's death has galvanized an anti-government movement that hails Lemp as a martyr.
Prosecutors in neighboring Howard County are reviewing the shooting.
Members of a tactical unit were serving a “no-knock” search warrant at Lemp’s home around 4:30 a.m. on March 12 when an officer fatally shot him. Lemp’s girlfriend and parents say he was asleep in his bed beside his girlfriend when police fired at him from outside the house in Potomac, Maryland, according to family attorney Rene Sandler.
The family’s account contradicts a statement issued by the police department, which said Lemp was armed with a rifle and ignored commands to show his hands and get on the ground when officers entered the family’s home. The department also said police found a “booby trap” affixed to the frame of Lemp’s bedroom door.
Judicial Watch sued the police department on July 28 in Montgomery County Circuit Court. It accuses the department of violating the Maryland Pubic Information Act. The group said the department failed to respond to its June 18 public records request for videos of the shooting.
“Given the vastly differing accounts of what happened, the Montgomery County Police Department needs to release all body-cam footage from the SWAT team raid on and shooting of Duncan Lemp,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement Tuesday. “Withholding basic public information about a police shooting undermines public confidence in law enforcement.”
The Associated Press filed a public records request for any such videos a day after the shooting. The department’s records custodian denied the request on April 3, saying it was an open case and that “disclosure at this time would interfere with valid and proper law enforcement proceedings.”
A police department spokesman didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to an email and text message seeking comment on the lawsuit. Yolanda Vazquez, a spokeswoman for Howard County State’s Attorney Rich Gibson, said that office will not release any details of the case until it is concluded.
Sandler said Lemp’s family appreciates Judicial Watch for “pursuing accountability and transparency of police conduct” during officers' entry of their home. Sandler has criticized the police department for refusing to release any videos of the shooting or even confirm whether such evidence exists.
“For five months after police killed Duncan Lemp in his own bedroom, police have said nothing, revealed nothing, and have refused the grieving Lemp family any information about his death,” she wrote in an email Tuesday.
Calls to release any videos of Lemp’s shooting have become a rallying cry for a loose network of gun-toting, anti-government extremists promoting the “boogaloo,” a slang term for a second civil war or collapse of civilization. The nascent “boogaloo” movement has been linked to a recent string of domestic terrorism plots.
A post on Lemp’s Instagram account shortly before his death depicted two people holding up rifles and included the term “boogaloo.” Sandler, however, has said Lemp was not a part of any anti-government group.
Detectives obtained the warrant to search the home Lemp shared with his parents and younger brother after receiving an anonymous tip that Lemp was illegally possessing firearms, police said.
The officer who shot Lemp was placed on administrative leave, a standard procedure after police shootings.