Law enforcement officials in Maryland identified the police officer who killed a man inside a police cruiser with his hands were cuffed behind his back on Monday night. Prince George’s police Corporal Michael Owen, Jr., a Black man, shot William Green, who was also restrained by a seat belt, seven times at close range, the Washington Post reported.
While appearing on face value to be well deserved, the murder charge came seemingly quicker than perhaps ever before in the history of police officers being charged with murdering unarmed Black males like Green, a 43-year-old District of Columbia resident who was engaged to be married. It was a swiftness that Prince George’s Police Chief Hank Stawinski acknowledged when addressing the media to announce the charges on Tuesday.
Calling the killing “unprecedented,” Stawinski said less than 24 hours after Green was executed that he had “concluded that what happened last night is a crime.”
“Unprecedented” seemed to be an appropriate word seeing that more officers than not have avoided murder charges for killings just as flagrant if not more. The Post cited its own analysis that showed grim statistics surrounding police shootings in America. Out of “thousands of fatal shootings at the hands of police nationally between 2005 and 2015, only 54 officers were charged,” the Post wrote.
That made Owen’s quick charges take on much more significance.
The 10-year veteran officer was already booked and behind bars Tuesday night — again, less than 24 hours after the shooting took place, faster than any other booking of police officers charged with murder in recent history. The Post wrote that he was “charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and associated weapons charges.”
Owen had been involved with two other police shootings, one resulting in death. The circumstances from those episodes were not immediately clear.
The fateful encounter between Green and Owen came after 911 calls made surrounding a driver hitting multiple vehicles, prompting police to pull Green over in the town of Temple Hills. The responding officer, now identified as Owen, claimed he smelled PCP in Green’s car, according to police reports. Green was handcuffed and placed in the police cruiser’s front passenger seat as other officers searched for drugs with a K9.
Soon, a reported struggle occurred inside the police cruiser between Owen and Green, who — again — was handcuffed. The details around the altercation still aren’t clear. Two witnesses told the cops that they heard two loud bangs inside the cruiser during the scuffle. Cops on the scene reportedly tried to give Green medical attention after he was shot. Then, he was rushed to the hospital where he died.
Owen was not wearing a body camera during the incident. He was placed on administrative leave before he was charged Tuesday.
Some high-profile police shootings that left Black men dead have resulted in major delays of the involved officers being charged criminally. It took nearly three days for the Dallas Police Department to arrest Amber Guyger, an off-duty cop who shot Botham Jean, an unarmed man, inside his own home in 2018. It took nearly two months for a grand jury to return an indictment against Guyger, who was ultimately found guilty of murder and sentenced t a decade behind bars last year.
However, former NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo was recorded on video using an illegal chokehold to kill Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man, in broad daylight on Staten Island. Despite the overwhelming evidence of murder that was widely seen on a viral video of the killing, Pantaleo remained on the police force for more than five years after Garner’s death. A grand jury failed to return an indictment against him and Pantaleo actually went on to get a pay raise until he was finally terminated last year. He was never charged criminally.
In both cases, the officers claimed they feared for their lives in what has become an all but foolproof go-to defense for cops who shoot unarmed Black people.
However, when it comes to officers of color being involved with police shootings, all bets are off. That was true for Peter Liang, an Asian former NYPD cop who shot and killed Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man, in a housing project stairwell in Brooklyn in 2014. Liang turned himself in the next day and was convicted of manslaughter in 2016.
Police shootings are a bit more precarious when it comes to Black cops, in particular.
That was true for Mohamed Noor, who was working as a police officer in Minneapolis when he shit and killed a white woman while responding to a possible assault in 2017. Noor said he saw the woman — Justine Damond — and shot her out of fear in a split second. Despite using the same defense many cops who shot and killed unarmed people have used, Noor last year was found guilty of third degree murder and second degree manslaughter and sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison.