By SOPHIE GORMAN ORIANI — The mood varied between somber, restless and angry as City of Hyattsville staff gathered with the broader community to discuss the death of Leonard Shand, who was shot by police on Sept. 26. The community meeting, which was held Oct. 1 at University Christian Church, was led by Mayor Candace Hollingsworth and Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD) Chief Amal Awad.
The meeting was well attended by local residents, who filled both the church sanctuary and narthex. Many city councilmembers were present, as well as elected officials from Prince George’s County, city staff and police officers, and clergy, including some of the Hyattsville Community Chaplains.
The Rev. Nathan Hill, pastor at University Christian Church, welcomed the large crowd. “You are welcome in this space,” he said. “This has been a hard week in our city, and together we are grieving and shocked.”
Hollingsworth thanked everyone for coming to the community meeting: “As mayor, one thing I know is that … we need to honor and make good on that commitment we made to be transparent and to be open with this community.”
Awad said, “At the core of our values is … preserving and valuing the sanctity of life,” and she then gave a summary of the incident.
According to Awad, three agencies were involved in the shooting: the HCPD, the Prince George’s County Police Department (PGCPD), and the Mount Rainier Police Department. The shooting is being investigated by PGCPD as both a homicide and an administrative investigation.
Awad said that on Sept. 26, the HCPD received an emergency call from the Starbucks at the corner of Belcrest Road and East-West Highway. The caller said that the man who had allegedly assaulted a Starbucks employee a few days prior had returned. [pullquote] “This has been a hard week in our city, and together we are grieving and shocked.” -The Rev. Nathan Hill, University Christian Church[/pullquote]
The first officer on the scene called for backup after seeing that the man, who has since been identified as Leonard Shand, was armed with two knives. Shand allegedly refused to cooperate with police commands to drop the knives, despite being shocked with a Taser stun gun three times as he walked down Belcrest Road toward Toledo Road. The officers continued to talk to Shand in an effort to contain him and convince him to drop his knives. An attempt to pepper spray him was also unsuccessful.
“The intent is to get Mr. Shand to a medical care facility for an emergency evaluation,” Awad said. “The officers clearly see that there is an issue.”
As Shand walked from Toledo Road towards Toledo Terrace, officers called for additional backup and began to form a perimeter, blocking roads around the area. A negotiator and a supervisor with a “less-than-lethal” beanbag shotgun were called in.
The beanbag shotgun was ineffective, as it did not stop Shand from advancing towards police. A flashbang, or stun grenade, intended to “distract and disorient” Shand, was also unsuccessful.
Awad said, “When Mr. Shand advanced, he advanced with his arms extended, with knives in either hand, towards the officer who was deploying the beanbags.” At that point, the supervisor retreated and the surrounding officers shot Shand, killing him.
“That is what is on the video,” Awad said. “I will try to answer your questions as best I can, … but I am limited in what I can share because this is an open, active investigation being conducted by the Prince George’s County Police Department.” She later clarified that Hyattsville does not have homicide investigators, and it is standard practice for PGCPD to handle homicides within the city.
As the meeting turned to residents’ questions, more details about the incident emerged. Some questions were submitted in advance and read aloud by the mayor, while other residents chose to stand and speak.
Awad said that after an officer-involved shooting, officers are debriefed and placed on administrative leave. She also noted that Hyattsville has not had the practice of releasing body camera footage, especially during an investigation, adding that she intended to talk to the other departments involved about the importance of releasing the footage.
According to Awad, after the PGCPD investigation concludes, the case will go to the Office of the State’s Attorney and then to a Maryland grand jury, which will decide whether the case will move forward. After the meeting was over, Awad clarified that the investigation alone would likely take “months.”
During the Q&A, one woman said she and her 12-year-old son had been eyewitnesses to the beginning of the event. Shand refused to get on the ground when initially confronted by the first officer, but was not aggressive, she said. The eyewitness, who left the meeting immediately after her speech, said Shand was holding his hands above his head and had no weapons visible when the officer drew his weapon. “I don’t know at what point he had weapons, but in the first 10 minutes, the first two rounds of being tased, he did not have weapons,” she said. “The officer could have tackled him to the ground.”
Some resident-submitted questions addressed the tactical issues at play, asking why Shand could not have been shot in the leg. Awad responded “Officers are trained to shoot center mass [the torso area]” but that “the intent is not to kill,” but to stop the threat. Hollingsworth received a round of applause when she suggested that Hyattsville should consider adjusting this aspect of officer training.
Many residents expressed concerns that Shand may have been mentally ill and wondered why a mental health professional was not called to the scene. Awad said that all Hyattsville officers have been trained in ICAT ( Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics), which is a training designed to help officers de-escalate situations. One resident asked why the police do not have a mental health professional on staff. Hollingsworth said this idea should be explored, and Awad added that HCPD officers have received training in mental health awareness from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Terinee Bonds, a local resident, spoke out tearfully in a plea for accountability. “Every time something like this happens, it further damages the relationship [between police and citizens],” she said. “I think part of it is the lack of accountability. … If you can’t even acknowledge that there was something wrong, how do you fix it?”
According to Awad, this was the first fatal officer-involved shooting in Hyattsville’s history.
Hollingsworth announced that the city will hold another community meeting once the investigation is complete. Residents are invited to submit comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Emails will be treated as public comment and recorded.
In closing, Hollingsworth noted that “every question, every piece of anger, came from a place of love, because we all love this community, and we love where we live, and we want it to be better.”
“We have … a journey in front of us,” said Hollingsworth, “but I know that … the end result of that is going to be a much better place.”