Man dies in police custody
Edwin Morales, a 29-year-old Mount Rainier man, died in Hyattsville police custody on the afternoon of Oct. 14, following a bicycle and foot chase, and a short struggle.
According to a city police press release, at about 3:40 p.m. on Oct. 14, a resident called 911 to report the theft of his bicycle on Rhode Island Avenue in Mount Rainier. The bike owner followed the suspect in a car.
Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD) Sgt. Patrick O’Hagan was first on the scene, as reported by ABC7, based on the incident report they obtained. Near the 5900 block of Baltimore Avenue, Morales jumped off the bike and fled on foot.
ABC7 reported that O’Hagan, pursued Morales, struck him with a baton and pushed him, causing Morales to stumble and fall.
According to the HCPD press release, Morales “fell twice and continued to run before falling into a wooded area.”
HCPD Media Relations Manager Adrienne Augustus wrote in an email that the HCPD press release did not report the baton strike because initial review of the body camera footage did not show the baton actually striking Morales. “We did not believe what appeared to be a swing and miss were relevant to the sudden deterioration of the suspect’s health and unfortunate death.”
Augustus acknowledged “the possibility that the baton may have grazed the suspect’s leg; however, the suspect continued running.”
Officers requested an ambulance “for suspected unknown drug intoxication,” according to the press release.
Morales became unresponsive before the ambulance arrived, and officers removed the handcuffs and began CPR. Morales revived briefly, according to the press release. He was later pronounced dead at University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center.
Prince George’s County Police Department investigators are reviewing evidence and awaiting autopsy results.
Hyattsville’s tree canopy: 30% lost since 2009
Hyattsville lost 30% of its tree canopy, about 236 acres’ worth, between 2009 and 2018, according to an Oct. 19 presentation to the city council by Joe Joyner of the Davey Resource Group.
The city awarded the forestry consultants a $30,000 contract in 2020 to study the city’s canopy.
According to aerial imagery, the tree canopy covered 45% of the city in 2009, but was reduced to 31% by 2018. Land development, damage from an insect called the emerald ash borer, and the natural death of old trees are likely to be the main causes of this loss.
Hyattsville’s maximum potential tree canopy coverage is 940 acres, or about 54% of land cover.
In an email, resident, Dr. Theresa Goedeke, an environmental sociologist active in the community on sustainability issues, offered praise for the Hyattsville’s Shade Tree Board, city arborist and public works department.
She wrote, “we have some amazing old trees here, but some of them are failing and there are few young trees to replace their canopy. Added to that is what seems like a rush to develop in every green space left in the region, including our city parks,” she said. “In five years, this city will be transformed, and much less green and sustainable, I’m afraid, if we do not change our approach, collectively.”
One bright spot on Hyattsville’s map is Northwestern High School’s campus, the largest area that has seen an increase in tree canopy since 2019.