Feb 3, 2020
A Prince George’s County police officer shot and killed a handcuffed man. At first, the police claimed that 43-year-old William Green, of Southeast Washington, D.C. might have been under the influence of PCP. PCP is a hallucinogenic drug that has been associated with violent behavior. For a whole day, that was the explanation police used to reassure the public for why the officer shot Green—seven times, while handcuffed behind his back, in the front seat of the cruiser.
As it turns out, PCP does not appear to have been involved. It appears the police don’t have evidence to back up their story. In fact, it appears they have a real problem. They are unable to excuse or justify Corporal Michael Owen Jr.’s behavior.
Twenty-four hours after the shooting, the police said something very different. “I am unable to come to our community this evening and offer you a reasonable explanation for the events that occurred last night,” said police chief Hank Stawinski. Cpl. Owen has now been charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, and associated weapons charges.
Charging a police officer in an on-duty shooting is extremely rare. According to a Washington Post analysis of thousands of fatal shootings at the hands of police nationally between 2005 and 2015, only 54 officers were charged.
Green had been sleeping in his parked car when he was approached by police for allegedly hitting several cars. Maybe Green had been drinking and was sleeping it off. Maybe there was some health issue going on. No one knows. But even the police can’t find a way to justify killing this unarmed, constrained man in cold blood.