Statement by Will Jawando, Democratic Nominee for County Council At Large, Regarding the Release of Body Camera Footage of the Officer Involved Shooting and Killing of Mr. Robert White

SILVER SPRING, Md. — Earlier this week, the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) released body camera footage of the killing of Mr. Robert White, a Silver Spring neighbor and black man. Mr. White was walking in his neighborhood when he was confronted by Officer Anand Badgujar, starting an interaction that would ultimately lead to Mr. White being shot more than 7 times and losing his life.

I feel deep sadness and hurt for Robert White, his family and friends and our greater Silver Spring community. I am also strongly determined to put in place better policies, safeguards, training and accountability mechanisms, to stop the shootings of unarmed black men and women.

Now that the Howard County State’s Attorney office has determined the shooting was legally justified, MCPD will conduct an internal investigation to determine whether any departmental rules and policies (including use of force) were broken and, if so, what administrative action should be taken. This is a critical process, and as that review proceeds, I urge MCPD and others to focus on a few key lines of inquiry:

1) Was the reason for Officer Badgujar for stopping Mr. White — “he had a large rip in the fabric on the upper back of his outer garment, and because he abruptly moved his right hand to the right side of his body” — warranted under the circumstances?

2) Could the shooting have been prevented if there was additional and ongoing police training incorporating updated procedures to recognize potential mental health issues? For example, when Officer Badgujar referenced “suicide by cop” in his communications, should that have been a flag to engage through a mental health protocol? Moving forward we must have better recognition of mental health symptoms and behaviors.

3) Can we learn from this to improve training police in split-second decision-making? It is absolutely true that police officers must make life-and-death decisions, based on the information in front of them, in seconds. The body camera video shows critical points where the officer could have recognized potential mental health challenges and could have de-escalated the situation and potentially saved a life. But it is up to MCPD leadership and our county’s policy leaders to make sure we are properly training our police officers. There are examples of this: the Lab for Applied Social Science Research at the University of Maryland has a virtual reality program that evaluates and improves officer decision-making. The UMD lab is working with the Prince George’s County Police Department, and I am exploring if this might be something that could help us here in Montgomery County.

Research, including a recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, proves that African Americans and people of color are killed by police more than any other group.

Under these circumstances, we must acknowledge that Mr. White may have initially moved away from the officer because he was scared. That is not an irrational feeling and one that many African Americans, including myself, have felt during our lives. It is important to recognize that feelings of fear and anxiety are often part of police and community involved encounters. These must be factored into police decision-making processes and situation assessments.

I am committed to working with the community and MCPD to find ways to both increase dialogue and improve officer decision making and de-escalation tactics. I believe Officer Badgujar did not start off with an intent to kill Mr. White. But his decisions led to that ultimate outcome. Any training must recognize the fact that black men, in particular, have the odds stacked against them when police engage them for things like a ripped jacket. These facts must be weighed and considered as we review this case, and consider what the County Council, as policymakers, can do.