Murder charge for officer accused of killing handcuffed man

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TEMPLE HILLS, Md. (AP) — A Maryland police officer who fatally shot a handcuffed man in the front seat of a police cruiser will face a murder charge, the police chief said Tuesday.

Prince George's County Police Chief Hank Stawinski said during a news conference that he asked his special investigations response team to file multiple charges, including a second-degree murder count, against Cpl. Michael Owen, Jr., a 10-year veteran of the force.

Owen was also charged with voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, first-degree assault and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence, according to a news release. He was arrested on Tuesday, department spokeswoman Jennifer Donelan said.

The victim was identified as William Howard Green, 43, of Washington, D.C. Authorities did not reveal Green's race, citing department policy.

Stawinski called the announcement the most difficult of his tenure as police chief.

“I am unable to come to our community this evening and provide you with a reasonable explanation for the events that occurred last night," the chief told reporters. “I concluded that what happened last night is a crime.”

The deadly shooting occurred Monday night inside the cruiser after Prince George's County police officers responded to reports that a driver had struck multiple vehicles near the Temple Hills community, department spokeswoman Christina Cotterman told news outlets during an earlier news conference.

When officers located the driver, they smelled PCP and believed the man was under the influence, Cotterman said.

However, Stawinski later said that PCP did not appear to have been involved. Stawinski also said he could not corroborate a witness' account of a struggle in the cruiser.

The officer got into the driver's seat after the the suspect was taken into custody and placed in the front passenger seat, according to Cotterman, who said that conforms with department policy.

“A short time later, for reasons that are now at the center of the investigation, Green was shot seven times by the officer’s duty weapon,” according to a news release issued Tuesday night.

After the shooting, Owen and another officer removed Green from the cruiser and provided medical aid to Green, who died at a hospital a short time later.

"There are no circumstances under which this outcome is acceptable,” Stawinski said. “You have my assurance that all our methods and practices will be examined as this investigation proceeds.”

The shooting wasn't caught on body-camera video because the officer didn't have one, Cotterman said. Investigators were looking for surveillance cameras in the area that may have recorded the shooting.

Owen had been placed on administrative leave prior to the announcement that charges would be filed against him.

Owen has been involved in at least two other shootings during his time on the force. 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 incident, but there is no indication whether additional action was taken.

In 2009, Owen was off-duty when someone tried to rob him outside his home, The Washington Post reported. Police officials said the would-be robber fired, but Owen was not hit and returned fire. The assailant fled, according to police.

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said in a statement Tuesday that her office will conduct a "thorough and independent investigation.”

“We will seek truth, and will vigorously pursue justice in a way that is fair and responsible,” Braveboy said, according to The Washington Post. “Once we have received all information and completed our own investigation and analysis, I assure you that my office will be transparent and accountable to the public about our findings and how we will move forward.”

Deborah Jeon, legal director for the the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said in a statement that there is no reason for an officer to shoot a handcuffed suspect multiple times inside a patrol car. Jeon called it “completely unacceptable” that Prince George's County's police department doesn't equip all its officers with body cameras.

“These deaths are completely preventable,” Jeon said. “Police characterize them as unavoidable, but they are not. And body camera footage will show that.”

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