A legal settlement agreement has been reached in the death of a man who authorities say was fatally shot by a Maryland police officer while he was handcuffed in a patrol car.
Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced a $20 million settlement with the family of William Howard Green, 43, who was killed in January.
Alsobrooks was joined by Green family attorney Billy Murphy and members of the family at a news conference Monday morning.
“The number here reflected the heinous nature, the brutal nature, the senseless nature of what happened to Mr. Green,” Murphy said.
Murphy said it could have cost the county more had the civil lawsuit gone to trial.
“The people of the county should be grateful that Angela Alsobrooks took care of business in a way that protects not only the interests of the family, but the interests of this county,” he said.
Prince George’s County Police Cpl. Michael Owen Jr., the officer accused of shooting Green, was arrested in January on charges of second-degree murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, first-degree assault and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence.
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A police report from January said the shooting happened after Owen handcuffed Green, of Washington, D.C., behind his back and placed him in his patrol car after responding to a traffic accident and finding him sleeping in his vehicle, apparently under the influence of an unknown substance.
Police initially said there were witness reports of a struggle inside the police cruiser but investigators didn’t find any evidence of a fight between Owen and Green before Green was shot in the front passenger seat. Officers are permitted to transport arrested suspects in the front when their patrol cars lack partitions between the front and back, police said.
Owen fired seven shots at Green and struck him six times, according to the police report.
Owen initially said Green tried to grab his gun, but police experts proved that was impossible.
Alsobrooks said there was no plausible way for Green to gain control of Owen's gun.
“I am deeply sorry for your loss,'' Alsobrooks told Green's mother.
“All along all this family ever wanted was fairness,” Murphy said. “They didn’t want revenge; they didn’t proceed in anger, even though they were; they didn’t proceed on the basis of purely an emotional response because they knew that that would not get us to where we are today.”
“We relive this every time a George Floyd is killed, every time a Brianna Taylor is killed, my aunt relives this every single day,” said Green’s cousin.
“I look around the country, I look at George Floyd and I look at Breonna Taylor, and I see cases that the government that’s responsible did not step up and in some cases still hasn't,” said settlement mediator Steven Platt, a retired judge. “This government stepped up immediately.”
A prosecutor, Renee Joy, said in January that Green complied with officers' commands when he was taken out of the car and handcuffed. Joy said Green posed “absolutely no threat.” Investigators did not find any weapons in Green's possession or in his vehicle. Owen is Black. Police wouldn’t specify Green’s race in January, citing department policy.
The shooting wasn't caught on body-camera video because the officer didn't have one, police said.
Owen was denied bond in January by a judge who said he found convincing evidence that the officer posed a danger to the community. Defense attorney Jonathon Scruggs said in January that Owen is an ordained minister and doesn’t pose a danger.
The state’s attorney’s office confirmed to The Associated Press that jury selection in the case was scheduled to begin in March 2021.
Prince George's County has nearly 1 million residents and its police department is Maryland's fourth largest law-enforcement agency, with more than 1,500 officers covering a wide swath of the Washington, D.C., suburbs.
Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that the police department's early-warning system flagged Owen months before he shot Green. Owen triggered the system by using force twice in quick succession last summer, but his supervisors hadn't been formally notified until January and didn't act before Owen killed Green, the newspaper reported.
Owen was involved in at least two other shootings. In 2011, he fatally shot a man who pointed a gun at him after Owen left an event at police headquarters, the department said. Owen was placed on administrative leave after that killing.
That closed case is now under review by the state's attorney's office.
In 2009, Owen was off-duty when someone tried to rob him outside his home, the Post reported. Police officials said the would-be robber fired, but Owen was not hit and returned fire. The assailant fled, according to police.
The Green settlement is another strike against the county's embattled police agency. The department is being sued by some of its own officers for discrimination and retaliation. In June, Chief Hank Stawinski stepped down after a report supporting their claims went public.
“This is not the way that we want to spend taxpayer dollars, which is why we are doing everything we can to make sure we are never here again,” Alsobrooks said.
News4 reached out to Owen’s attorney in the criminal case and has not heard back.