Five days after shooting 21-year-old Duncan Lemp in a predawn raid, the Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department announced Tuesday that the killing was immaculate.
Under pressure by media criticism, the police department issued a detailed statement this afternoon purportedly exonerating itself. But that statement—the third revision of their official account of the fatal raid—is contradicted by multiple eyewitnesses.
Police now say that the raid was spurred by “an anonymous tip at the beginning of the year, indicating that Lemp was in possession of firearms.” A response from the Lemp family, delivered by their lawyer, Rene Sandler, noted, “Using a three-month old ‘anonymous’ tip, the police sought and obtained a no-knock search warrant on March 11, 2020 at 2:38 p.m.”
The police department states that the warrant “was served in the early morning hours, consistent with Montgomery County Department of Police practice.” So an anonymous tip is all it takes for a SWAT team to launch violent predawn assaults on Montgomery County homes? The press statement declared, “The officers entering the residence announced themselves as police and that they were serving a search warrant.” Why did they obtain a no-knock warrant if they intended to enter the residence and announce themselves?
According to the statement from the family, the raid began when “SWAT officers initiated gunfire and flash bangs through Duncan Lemp’s bedroom window in the front of the house.” According to the police, “Upon making contact with Lemp, officers identified themselves as the police and gave him multiple orders to show his hands.” The press release reads almost as if Lemp died from an overwhelming sense of guilt, rather than being shot perhaps multiple times by police. It also doesn’t specify whether they’d shot or otherwise wounded Lemp before “making contact” and issuing commands. According to Lemp’s pregnant girlfriend, who was in bed with him at the time of the police attack, “police never made verbal commands upon either her or Duncan until after Duncan was shot and lay bleeding on the floor.”
The press release declares: “Upon entrance by officers into Lemp’s bedroom, Lemp was found to be in possession of a rifle and was located directly in front of the interior bedroom entrance door.” Was he “found to be in possession” as he lay on the floor bleeding? And was it Lemp or the rifle that was directly in “front of the interior bedroom entrance door”?
The police claim to be vindicated because they found five firearms in the house and because they asserted today that Lemp had a “criminal history as a juvenile” that “prohibited [him] from legally possessing or purchasing firearms in the State of Maryland until the age of 30.” Do the police have a right to kill anyone who possesses a firearm in violation of any statute on the books? If so, that’s bad news for the tens of thousands of Maryland gun owners who are federal felons because they use marijuana or other illicit drugs.
The police department has offered a sham of transparency. They refused to answer any of my questions last Friday. I sent another set of questions to them this morning prior to the latest revision of their story, among them:
- Many people online have suggested that Lemp was targeted for a raid because he was helping to build a secure computer site for people who shared his [pro-gun] political beliefs. Is that allegation correct? Did concerns about Lemp’s political beliefs or associations factor into the SWAT team’s decision to launch a violent raid at 4:30 a.m.?
- Did the SWAT team or other police department or Montgomery County officials do any assessment of the likelihood that someone would be injured or killed by a nighttime SWAT raid that began with shooting or flash-bangs?
- Did Montgomery County police or other officials make any effort or even consider making an effort to serve the search warrant in a way that would have permitted the peaceful, voluntary cooperation of Lemp family members?
I sent those questions to a Montgomery County police department official, who notified me that all questions were being forwarded to the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office. I contacted that office and its spokesman, Ramon Korionoff, who responded: “I cannot help you on this matter as it is the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office who is handling the investigation.”
(Howard County and Montgomery County have an agreement to conduct reciprocal investigations of police shootings).
Howard County Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Yolanda Vazquez responded that the case was “still under investigation” and thus they would disclose nothing. And folks wonder why I am cynical.
I also emailed the Montgomery County Police Department asking for the names of the police officer or officers who shot Lemp. As David Simon, the writer who masterminded the television series Homicide and The Wire, observed, “Without a name [of a policeman involved in a shooting], there’s no way for anyone to evaluate an officer’s performance independently, to gauge his or her effectiveness and competence, to know whether he or she has shot one person or 10.”
I also asked: “Have those officers made a statement to investigators yet?” Maryland’s so-called “Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights” prohibits questioning a police officer for 10 days after any incident in which he used deadly force. That law is practically designed to sabotage honest investigations into killings by police. As the Washington Post noted in a prize-winning report on police abuses in neighboring Prince George’s County, “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.” I received no response to that email either.
The family’s statement notes: “The actual search warrant and sworn statements therein were sealed by the judge upon request of the police at the time the warrant was filed for 30 days.” So the public will not learn until April 11 at the earliest why Montgomery County police chose to use a violent predawn raid on someone who, according to court records, had engaged in no criminal activity since he was a juvenile.
The Montgomery County Police Department doesn’t have a Fifth Amendment right to remain silent after it kills county residents. The SWAT team wore body cams and police have thus far refused to release the footage. They deserve no benefit of the doubt for this violent killing.