Perhaps the most outrageous police killing of the year continues to be almost completely ignored by the American media.
Montgomery County, Maryland politicians and government officials have loudly lamented police killings in Minneapolis and elsewhere while continuing to cover up a no-knock raid that is difficult to distinguish from an extrajudicial killing. Since banning so-called no-knock raids has been included in the new House Democratic proposal for police reforms, let’s take a look at a recent one that ended in the death of a 21-year-old man.
At 4:30 a.m. on March 12, a Montgomery County police SWAT team commenced a no-knock raid by firing into a bedroom window and fatally wounding Duncan Lemp as he lay in bed next to his pregnant girlfriend. Police then stormed the house, using flash bangs to intimidate Lemp’s mother and other relatives living in the house. Lemp bled to death while family members were handcuffed on the floor nearby.
Lemp was a savvy I.T. guy who was volunteering to assist gun rights groups in setting up secure websites and communications systems. But Lemp had no security to protect himself against police bullets coming through his bedroom window before dawn that morning.
During the raid, police officers repeatedly shouted at family members that everything they said and did was being recorded. However, Montgomery police may have either destroyed any videos or never made a recording. On June 5, lawyer Rene Sandler, representing the Lemp family, sent a letter to Montgomery County prosecutor Haley Roberts: “We have been advised that Police Chief Marcus Jones made an ‘on the record’ statement that no body cameras existed for the raid of the Lemp home and the killing of Duncan Lemp.” Sandler sought confirmation that the raid video footage existed and requested its immediate release. She received no response.
After seeing the Sandler letter, I emailed Montgomery County chief executive Marc Elrich and Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones asking: “Can you confirm or deny that there is no body cam footage of the Lemp shooting?” I received no reply. I sent the same question multiple times to county prosecutor Roberts, the same lawyer who threatened Lemp’s parents if they attended a protest over his killing at County police headquarters in April. Roberts replied on June 12: “This matter is an open criminal investigation being handled by the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office, and as such any inquiries should be directed to that office.”
The coverup of the Lemp killing is being aided and abetted by the Orwellian-named “Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency Act” which the county council enacted last year. Montgomery County and Howard County have an agreement to conduct reciprocal investigations of police shootings. Individuals I have spoken to involved in this case have zero confidence in the independence of the Howard County investigation—which conveniently permits Montgomery County officials to shirk all questions. Perhaps some months or a year or two from now, an “official report” will reveal the following: “We investigated our law enforcement friends and neighbors and found out that they did nothing wrong except for a glitch where one policeman’s finger accidentally bumped a trigger and inadvertently killed a dastardly gun owner who was also guilty of tweeting ‘The Constitution is Dead.’”
Montgomery County officials are offering endless dollops of piety in lieu of revealing how and why Duncan Lemp was killed, while the state government is perpetuating a “stay-at-home” dictate that is one of the nation’s strictest and has helped destroy tens of thousands of jobs. But county officials have nonetheless cheered mass rallies to protest the Floyd killing and the racial injustice. The county police shut down a major road to assist protest Black Lives Matters marches in the heart of Rockville, Maryland, right outside of D.C..
In a June 4 Washington Post op-ed, county chief executive Marc Elrich declared, “The killings committed by members of the police force are truly horrible, without justification, often explained away and seldom punished appropriately.” But his fervor on this issue does not extend to revealing facts about killings by police under his command. Elrich has said nothing on the Lemp case.
On June 8, Chief Jones and the police chiefs of Rockville, Gaithersburg, and the chief of the National Park Service local division, issued a joint statement: “We…are angry and outraged over the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota….We realize that we must work toward greater transparency and accountability in order to hold the public trust.”
The police chiefs then declared that they “hereby commit” to a set of reforms, including a pledge to “improve training in cultural competency for our officers.” “Transparency” was nowhere in the reforms.
Two days later, Chief Jones bewailed: “Over the past couple of weeks, I have been beyond angry. I’m sick to the core of my soul” over Floyd’s killing. But there is no evidence he has lost a moment’s sleep over a killing by his own SWAT team. While Jones has had plenty of time to publicly condemn the action of the Minneapolis police, he has refused to meet with the mother and father of Duncan Lemp, who his own officers killed.
Selective outrage extends to the top law enforcement official in the state. On June 10, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, speaking on a Montgomery County panel organized by Communities United Against Hate, lamented that “these past few weeks have been awful,” referring to the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Frosh declared, “It’s not a surprise that many members of our community have lost trust in law enforcement when they see live, on videos, these events occurring.”
Floyd was brutally killed by an eight-minute-knee-on-the-neck after police sought to arrest him for passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Breonna Taylor was killed during an unjustified no-knock raid in the middle of the night. Police charged into her apartment seeking a drug suspect who she had dated years earlier but was nowhere near the scene. Taylor’s boyfriend fired at the police, hitting one officer in the leg. Police fired a volley of shots that left Breonna dead.
People are justifiably outraged by Taylor’s killing. But in the Lemp case, there were no shots fired at police who apparently began their assault by shooting into a bedroom window. On June 12, I emailed an inquiry to Frosh’s press office, asking whether he had made any public comments on the Lemp case and why he would “publicly comment on a Kentucky case that sounds similar to a case under his own jurisdiction?” Frosh’s office did not respond.
Conservatives sometimes accuse liberals of being virtue signaling zealots who are more outraged by prejudice than by wrongful killings. The Montgomery County Council could serve as Exhibit A.
In May 2019, a Montgomery County police officer used a racial slur during the trespassing arrest of four men who refused to leave a McDonald’s plagued by loitering and drug dealing. (Two arrestees had marijuana.) The policewoman who was caught on tape told the suspects that she had just used the same term to describe the defendants that they had just used. Less than a week later, all nine members of the Montgomery County Council demanded the release of all body cam footage from the incident. MyMCMedia reported that the council also sought “recordings of calls related to this stop… the number and locations of all trespassing citations issued in the last two years… as well as demographic statistics about the residents stopped and frisked.” Three hours of police video on the incident were posted on the police YouTube channel two months later amidst much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
For the Lemp case, not a single County Council member has requested body cam footage. Actually, not one Council member has shown any interest in the case. The Council has a Public Safety Committee but they appear to have never heard of Duncan Lemp. But the Council did take decisive action on June 11 to declare racism a “public health emergency.”
Who actually killed Duncan Lemp? Nobody in Montgomery County appears to care. The police have not even disclosed the name of the officer or officers who killed Lemp. In a season when vast protests have occurred alleging racial bias by police, Montgomery County has gotten away with refusing to disclose whether Lemp’s killer(s) was white, Black, Hispanic, Asian, or native American. Montgomery County preens over its progressiveness but its police department procedures on disclosing the names of officers who kill are worse than Philadelphia, long renowned for police brutality.
Even more important than the name of the cop who killed Lemp is the question: Did the SWAT team intentionally turn a search warrant into a death warrant? If not, then why did they start the raid by firing into Lemp’s bedroom? Will we ever learn the facts?
We hope that liberal Maryland hasn’t adopted some kind of warped double standard in which the color one of one’s skin determines whether there is a fierce investigation into a police killing or officers get away with murder. Duncan Lemp deserves more. As American citizens, we all do.