SILVER SPRING, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - The curtain shielding information from the public in police-involved shooting cases has been permanently lifted in Montgomery County. The new Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency act requires an outside agency to investigate fatal shootings and then make the reports public.
Last June, on Three Oaks Drive, a Montgomery County police officer shot and killed a man named Robert White. The shooting was ruled justified but left the public with many unanswered questions.
The law that went into effect Thursday drastically changes the way fatal police shootings are handled as well as the information ultimately made public.
However, so far, there is no jurisdiction willing to take on the counties fatal police-involved shootings, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich told me FOX 5 he is going to ask Governor Larry Hogan to designate the state police.
“We are going to ask Hogan — we are going to write a letter — and ask him to do it without legislation. He could do this without legislation or just pass the legislation to make sure to get the resource they need to do this,” said Elrich.
"The investigators have to be trained in complex, criminal and police investigations but the public piece of this is that the report is made public all the interviews all the investigative you know anything that is not violating privacy or anything is made public so people can see what happened," said Montgomery County Councilmember At-Large Will Jawando.
Jawando's bill, which was signed into law by Elrich, had its origin in the police-involved shooting of Robert White. A controversial shooting that was ultimately ruled justified by prosecutors in the Howard County State's Attorney’s Office.
What frustrated many people, including lawmakers, is the roots of the incident were never fully explained. The officer failed to immediately turn on his body camera which would have revealed the reason for the stop.
The officer’s lawyer has said Robert White put his hand in his pocket and turned away from the officer indicating he may have been hiding something and the officer wanted to search him for a weapon. A knife was found on White but never displayed during the encounter with the officer.
Under the new law, the entire report on the White shooting would be released to the public.
Advocates who testified in favor of the bill are thrilled.
“People are feeling a lack of trust in the police. They are looking at the system as it is happening now and seeing police investigating police and just not feeling that is a sustainable system,” said Laura Wallace with Jews United For Justice.
"This bill is important today because as we have seen there is a disproportionate impact on African Americans in this county when it comes to law enforcement and you know this bill was sort of a first step in making sure that the message is clearly delivered that these sorts of incidents have to be examined and there needs to be some transparency in their examination," said Cherri Branson with the NAACP.