It has been six weeks since a SWAT team shot and killed 21-year-old Duncan Lemp in a 4:30 a.m. raid at his family’s home in Potomac, Maryland, an affluent and sedate suburb of Washington, D.C. Montgomery County Police have thus far refused to provide any evidence on how or why they killed Lemp. But a county prosecutor leaped to action on Wednesday, effectively threatening any Lemp family members who attend a protest over his killing with a $5000 fine and a year in jail.
The reason? Maryland’s strict stay-at-home orders, imposed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan last month.
As I reported in American Conservative here and here, a Montgomery County SWAT team launched an unprovoked attack on the Lemp family home at 4:30 a.m. on March 12. Lemp was fatally wounded by the first shots that the police fired through his bedroom window. His family says he was sleeping in bed with his pregnant girlfriend at the time.
Police claim that they received an anonymous tip two months earlier that Lemp possessed firearms. The police department asserted Lemp was prohibited from owning firearms due to a juvenile conviction but there are apparently zero court records or other records to support that justification. Regardless of Lemp’s juvenile history, there was no evidence that he posed an imminent threat justifying a frontal assault that included throwing flash-bang explosive devices into the family home.
But now Montgomery County has a new imminent threat—angry relatives of the guy they killed. County prosecutor Haley Roberts sent a warning letter to Lemp family lawyers Jonathan Fellner and Rene Sandler: “Open source information indicates that your clients intend to participate in this planned protest” over the killing of Duncan Lemp at Montgomery County Police headquarters on April 25. “Open source” apparently means that the local police are tracking Lemp family members on social media, where the Lemp killing is still enraging legions of folks. Roberts warned that Gov. Hogan’s “‘stay-at-home’ order… does not appear to include planned protests.” Roberts stated that the county police department asked the lawyers to remind the Lemp family “of the Governor’s orders, as well as the charge from those orders and state law mandating law enforcement must enforce these orders.” At least the prosecutor did not hint that the SWAT team would attack them if they showed up.
Sandler fired off a testy reply: “As a matter of law, you are wrong. There is absolutely no basis for the arrest of any citizen in this State if such individual exercises their first amendment right… to peacefully assemble so long as social distancing of 6 feet is practiced and there are groups of no more than 10 people gathered.”
An unprovoked killing of an innocent man as he lay in bed is exactly the type of tyrannical abuse that Americans should protest. But Montgomery County officials apparently believe they can suppress protestors the same way that they have thus far covered up the SWAT killing.
While the county police have time to surveil Lemp family members online, police chief Marcus Jones has refused to meet with the Lemp family. The police department refuses to even name the policeman who killed Lemp in the predawn attack or to provide any other information to the family about the fatal raid. The county also rebuffed a comprehensive information request from the Firearms Policy Coalition, asserting that an ongoing investigation justified disclosing nothing.
Montgomery County police sealed the search warrant, which was granted on the day before the raid, for 30 days. However, because Montgomery County courts are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the county is refusing to disclose the search warrant. Sandler filed an emergency motion to get the search warrant unsealed but that may not spur results for a few more weeks.
Will the search warrant affidavits explain why the SWAT team chose to turn a search warrant into a death warrant? Sandler has been told that there is a homicide investigation ongoing into the killing of Duncan Lemp, potentially putting one or more SWAT team members in the legal crosshairs. But police unions have Maryland legislators practically in their pocket, and the so-called Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights all but entitles police to lie about why they shot and killed private citizens. The county police’s muddled and contradictory public statements on the Lemp shooting last month further dampened any expectation that police will come clean.
The search warrant affidavit may provide additional information on allegations against Lemp. Lemp, a software wiz, was volunteering to set up free websites for gun rights groups. Did Lemp’s gun rights activism play a role in the SWAT team’s decision to rely on a violent pre-dawn raid? Are local police or federal agents planning to target other gun rights activists?
At least one SWAT team member wore a camcom recorder during the raid but the police have refused to disclose the video of their attack. Last month, after a police killing in Newburgh, New York, sparked a riot, the local police department released within 24 hours outtakes from their camcom to prove that the man police killed drew a pistol on them. If Montgomery County police have not destroyed the SWAT video, what will it show— Duncan Lemp sleeping with an arm tossed over his pregnant girlfriend by his side? And will the video honestly record how the SWAT team members harangued and handcuffed his injured girlfriend and family members as Duncan lay bleeding to death? Or will that segment be lost to a technical glitch?
America is awaiting an answer from the Montgomery County government. Duncan Lemp’s last tweet declared, “The constitution is dead.” Nothing that has happened since his killing has proven him wrong.