The #2 Homeland Security official for Prince George’s County, Maryland recently shot two furniture delivery guys who brought a new bed to his house. The headboard had a scratch, according to local news reports. Since one of the delivery guys died a few days ago, the story won’t vanish, regardless of how many times the local government changes its story.
The shooter is also a long -term employee of the Prince George’s County Police Department. This police department has long had one of the worst records in the nation for gunning down innocent civilians. (Prince George’s is next to the District of Columbia).
Here’s a piece I did on the P.G. Police that Playboy published in December 2001. (The piece was written before 9/11). The response from the police chief and the local union chief follows after the article. *****
December 1, 2001
KILLER COPS : a case study in callousness; Maryland law protects corrupt police in Prince Georges County
by James Bovard
In the last decade, they killed and maimed more unarmed people than the Unabomber and the Aryan Nation combined. They have a worse human rights record than the Federal Bureau of Investigation. If they were a foreign-based entity classified as terrorists (such as Hamas),* and you contributed to their cause, you would face up to 10 years in jail for supporting terrorism. Instead, they are supported with your tax dollars.
They are the 1400 members of the Prince George’s County police department.
Prince George’s County, adjacent to Washington, D.C., is home to thousands of federal bureaucrats. In a series published in July, The Washington Post highlighted some of the police department’s accomplishments: “Since 1990, Prince George’s police have shot 122 people, killing 47 of them. Almost half of those shot were unarmed, and many had committed no crime.”
Among the shootings the police department ruled as justified: “An unarmed construction worker was shot in the back after he was detained in a fast-food restaurant. An unarmed suspect died in a fusillade of 66 bullets as he tried to flee in a car from police. A homeless man was shot when police mistook his portable radio for a gun. And an unarmed man was killed after he pulled off the road to relieve himself.”
Some local police practices appear to be borrowed from South Africa in its police-state days. “No one knows how many people have died while in the custody of Prince George’s officers,” the Post noted. “Police said they don’t keep track of such deaths. By examining autopsy reports and other documents, however, The Washington Post was able to identify 12 people who have died in police custody since 1990.”
The Post discovered the death of one person in police custody from a workers’ compensation filing by a policeman who requested disability payments because he suffered “emotional” problems after permanently subduing an arrestee. At least one suspect died after being severely beaten while wearing handcuffs. Medical examiners have ruled two of the deaths in police custody to have been homicides–yet the department has not disciplined a single officer in an incustody death.
The system is scrupulous and idealistic when it comes to respecting the rights of killer cops. Police are protected by the “Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights”–a Maryland law (similar to laws in many other states) that prohibits the questioning of a police officer for 10 days after any incident in which he or she used deadly force. In Prince George’s County, there is no greater offense than prematurely asking a cop why he gunned down a citizen. The Post noted that “a lawyer or a police union official is always summoned to the scene of a shooting to make sure no one speaks to the officer who pulled the trigger.” A toothless citizen police-oversight panel complained that the 10-day rule “invites abuse and raises serious concerns about collusion and the code of silence among officers.”
Even after the 10-day muzzle expires, police enjoy their version of the Miranda warning. Nothing they say can be used against them in any criminal proceedings. They enjoy the privilege of confidentiality–all statements to internal affairs investigators are kept from public scrutiny.
This bizarre policy might be unnecessary. One homicide detective who looked into the suspicious death of a man in police custody explained that he did not try to question the two policemen involved “because he didn’t want to violate their constitutional rights against self-incrimination.” In some cases, police are not questioned about shooting civilians until months after the victim has died.
Prince George’s seems devoted to covering up official killings. County lawyers refused to provide internal police records of police shooting investigations because it would be “contrary to the public interest”–even though state law seems to require that such information be revealed. Wayne Curry, the first black chief executive officer of Prince George’s County (which is the nation’s most affluent majority-black county), revels in the bad-boy record of his police, declaring last year that “people don’t want no pansy police force.”
Many other professions keep records of lethal mistakes, although reluctantly. Ford and Firestone issued a recall after a flurry of accidents. Medical errors cause tens of thousands of deaths every year. Since 1990, in an effort to protect us from incompetent practitioners, a national data bank has tried to track iatrogenic, or “doctor-caused,” fatalities. We don’t have a word for “police-caused” deaths.
In 1994 Congress passed a law requiring national record keeping on police shootings, justified or otherwise. However, neither the Justice Department nor most local police departments have bothered to keep track. As a result, it is difficult to know how many other police departments may have cops as trigger-happy–and as legally untouchable–as those in Prince George’s County.
Three months later, Playboy printed letters it received regarding the piece:
Copyright 2002 Playboy.com, Inc.
HEADLINE: READER RESPONSE; Letter to the Editor
“Killer Cops” (The Playboy Forum, December), which alleges abuses by the police force in Prince George’s County, Maryland, is loaded with incorrect information.
Six years ago, I came to Prince George’s County to lead one of the largest police forces in the region. The department had a history of high-profile incidents involving allegations of brutality and excessive use of force by some officers. The county was experiencing a high level of crime.
Things have changed. Today, crime is down in the county, excessive-force complaints are at a 16-year low and police use of deadly force is at a 15-year low. These reductions in complaints and shootings become even more impressive when one considers that the department has 512 more officers and handles 150,000 more calls for service than it did 16 years ago.
PLAYBOY’S report relies on accounts in The Washington Post. Regrettably, the Post reporter, who, along with his editor, spent hours reviewing our training changes and reductions in use of force, left out all references to the significant progress that has been achieved. In fact, the majority of shootings he referenced occurred five to 10 years ago. My first full year as chief was 1996. Since that year, officer use of deadly force has been reduced 69 percent.
Chief of Police
Prince George’s County
Palmer Park, Maryland
Response from Playboy editors:
Chief, thanks for writing. The Washington Post did mention your order that officers be retrained in the use of deadly force. It also noted that cops face difficult situations when deciding whether to fire their weapons. But since 1996, your officers have shot and killed suspects at four times the national average. Not a single officer has been demoted since 1990 for the unjustified use of his or her weapon. That’s hard to believe given other incidents the Post recounted, such as the 1997 case in which your officers claimed they had killed a distraught college student because he attacked them with a knife. When his family sued, the officers admitted under oath that the weapon had been a butter knife sitting on the counter, and that the student never touched it. A year later, two of your officers said they had killed a teenager in self-defense after he tried to grab their guns. But medical records indicated that the teen had been shot 13 times in the back while unconscious and lying facedown on the floor.
James Bovard sits in his cushy little office while I, along with 1399 other officers, patrol the second most dangerous and violent county in the country (behind Los Angeles). That “innocent” man mentioned in the article–the one police shot at 66 times–was a suspected burglar and under the influence of cocaine when he stole an idling police car after a foot chase. As a transit officer reached into the driver’s side door, the suspect put the car in reverse. Police shot him to prevent the officer from being dragged under the car.
As for the unarmed man who was killed while relieving himself, he was intoxicated and reaching into his waistband after being ordered to show his hands. As an officer, would you have waited to shoot until after he shot you? How can I expect Bovard to understand that? His biggest worry is carpal tunnel syndrome. Mine is dying in a neighborhood I don’t live in but risk my life for.
When you tally the number of unarmed people shot by police, are you including the dozens of suspects shot while beating officers into unconsciousness? How about suspects shot after striking officers with vehicles, or those killed after trying to wrestle away an officer’s weapon? Put yourself in a cop’s shoes. If a man reaches into his waistband after he sees you approaching in uniform, what would you think? Is he going for a gun? For drugs? For a radio? His wallet? Decide! There are no time-outs.
The police are tired of being scapegoats. I know officers who have started “de-policing” because they fear criticism. They do what the radio tells them to do, nothing more, nothing less. De-policing is being practiced in cities across the country, despite what police officials tell you. It will continue until police scrutiny is laid to rest.
“Killer Cops” stopped me dead in my tracks. At first I was disgusted. But then I thought about the police officers I know and the ones I have seen on TV digging through the rubble of the World Trade Center. They are good people. So perhaps the police officers in Prince George’s County are the victims of circumstance. Maybe the man they shot outside a fast-food restaurant wasn’t all that innocent. Maybe The Washington Post put a spin on the truth. Police, like other citizens, are innocent until proved guilty. Right?