By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging the Prince George’s County Police Department’s accounts of a fatal shooting involving a man who appeared to be dealing with mental health issues.
Leonard Shand, 49, of New Carrollton, was shot to death after officers spent 28 minutes trying to bring the incident to a non lethal conclusion. Shand, who appeared to be disoriented when confronted by police, was caught on social media video as the incident was unfolding.
“In the 28 minutes between the first engagement and when shots were fired, officers used all non-lethal methods available to them,” said Jennifer Donelan, director of Prince George’s County Police Media Relations Division.
Police reports say that Hyattsville Police Department received a call and were summoned to the scene at 7:14 a.m. from a coffee shop near Toledo and Belcrest roads on Sept. 26. Eyewitnesses said a man who had struck an employee in the head with a metal pole three days earlier was back at the shop with two knives and it was believed to be Shand.
Once on the scene they met Shand outside armed with two knives, one in each hand. Hyattsville City officers immediately urged him to drop the weapons. Those officers also requested the assistance of Prince George’s County Police officers, who responded as well. An officer with Mount Rainier Police also responded to assist.
For nearly 30 minutes, 10 officers worked to de-escalate the situation. They tried using tasers three times over several minutes but they were not effective. Prince George’s Police said pepper spray was also used. A Hyattsville City Police officer also used a less-lethal shotgun that discharges bean bags.
None of the non-lethal techniques worked to get Shand to drop the two knives. He reportedly was hit with four bean bag shots, one pepper spray and three taser rounds that didn’t subdue him.
“The suspect “charged” toward the officer with both knives,” reads the Prince George County Department’s press release. “Several officers then deployed their issued firearms, and the suspect was fatally shot.”
However, the ACLU questions whether law enforcement authorities exhausted all non-lethal measures in dealing with a Black suspect who could have been suffering with some form of mental health problems.
“Given the pattern of Maryland law enforcement officers gunning down Black and Brown people and their selective release of information, we are challenging the officers’ narrative,” said the ACLU press release. “Their language only continues to paint victims as threats while wiping their hands clean of any wrongdoing.”
However, during a community meeting held to discuss Shand’s death, Hyattsville Police Chief Amal Awad told the crowd her officers are trained in a research-based de-escalation program that aims at identifying people in distress called Integrating Communications, Assessments and Tactics. It is designed “to help officers engage in the attempt of de-escalation, where you’re trying to slow things down, create time and distance and talk through whatever the issue is,” Awad said.
The ACLU alleges that Hyattsville Police are improperly trained to deal with Black suspects dealing with mental health issues. Their claim is that Shand is a victim since there was no mental health professional brought to the scene and the attempt to subdue by firing weapons using a flash-bang grenade with bean bag shotgun rounds escalated the incident. Shand is the fourth suspect who has been killed in similar incidents around the state since June 2018.
“Poor training and systematic racism are not excuses for Maryland police agents to kill Black and Brown people at will with no accountability,” the ACLU statement concluded.