On January 28, Prince George’s County Police Corporal Michael Owen Jr. was charged with second-degree murder less than 24 hours after shooting and killing William Howard Green, an unarmed Black man who was handcuffed and seated inside the officer’s patrol car. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) acknowledges Prince George’s County officials’ prompt investigation and decision to charge Corporal Owen with murder. However, the incident raises important and concerning questions about its police department’s policies and practices.
“Prince George’s County officials acted rapidly in charging Corporal Owen with murder – a rightful response to blatantly unjustified violence against an unarmed Black man that resulted in the tragic loss of his life,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel. “We will closely monitor the outcome of any grand jury investigation and additional charges filed against the officer; however, the fact that Corporal Owen has been involved in three shootings – two of which were fatal – during his ten years as a law enforcement official is deeply concerning. The department needs to be forthcoming about any record of complaints against this officer – and undertake serious reforms to ensure that officers with a history of violence and other problematic conduct are removed from duty.”
Prince George’s County officials have indicated that they will conduct a “thorough and independent investigation” of the shooting and Police Chief Hank Stawinski emphasized that the department’s “methods and practices will be examined” as the investigation into Mr. Green’s killing moves forward. LDF urges them to go further.
“Any investigation of this officer’s conduct must seek to identify the root causes of this incident to ensure that justice for Mr. Green is achieved, to guarantee that necessary departmental reforms are undertaken, and to ensure public safety. The probe must examine the extent to which policies were violated or inadequate, including an assessment of the department’s hiring practices, use of force, body-worn camera, and discipline policies,” Monique Dixon, the Director of LDF’s Policing Reform Campaign, emphasized.
“This police shooting should never have occurred,” Dixon continued. “Mr. Green should be alive today. The investigation of this incident must result in changes to departmental policies and practices to ensure that this does not happen again.”
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization. LDF has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.