Chief of Police Summary of May 21, 2016 Incident at The Courtyards
On May 21, 2016 at 1:46 a.m., the University of Maryland Police Department, Emergency Communications Center received a 911 call, routed through Prince George’s County Public Safety Communications Center, regarding a fight at the 8500 block of Boteler Lane at The Courtyards Apartments.
Officers approached the apartment, and a female resident answered the door and explained that a graduation celebration was taking place. The officers advised the resident and partygoers, who were primarily African American, of the report of fighting inside the apartment and the possible use of a baseball bat. The residents refuted the claim, and initially resisted efforts of the officers to enter the premises.
The officers entered the apartment, and discovered there was no fight in progress. A decision was made to shut down the party, which exceeded the legal capacity of the apartment. Some of the partygoers left voluntarily, and others attempted to assist in clearing the crowd out. Others stayed in the apartment and in the breezeway area and did not disperse as instructed.
As partygoers were exiting the apartment, a group of individuals surrounded a UMPD officer on the breezeway and did not comply with instructions to disperse. Two officers deployed pepper spray to disperse the crowd. According to their statements, the officers used the spray because they believed the UMPD officer was in danger. The officers noted that one individual had to be restrained by a fellow partygoer. Two individuals were identified and arrested and charged with obstructing and hindering a police officer, disorderly conduct, and failing to obey a lawful order. Those charges have subsequently been dropped by the state.
The Prince George’s County Fire Department/EMS personnel arrived to help those who were affected by pepper spray. The area became overcrowded, and several individuals did not respond to instructions by UMPD officers to disperse. This delayed the EMS personnel’s efforts to help those who needed assistance.
EMS requested additional assistance with the growing crowd. Responding to the request, a UMPD officer witnessed another officer struggling with an individual who was being uncooperative. The responding officer deployed pepper spray and the struggle ended.
The officer who deployed the pepper spray arrested the individual who he believed to be the uncooperative person. While back at UMPD Headquarters, body worn camera footage revealed that the individual arrested was not the same person involved in the struggle. UMPD released the individual without charges a short time later.
UMPD policy requires an internal administrative review in all instances of pepper spray deployment. That internal review commenced May 22 and the final report was delivered to me on July 9. I want to thank Lieutenant Leadbeter for his thorough review of this incident.
The administrative review, led by Lieutenant Leadbeter, included 26 interviews and statements from UMPD officers, PGPD officers, EMS personnel, and partygoers, and careful review of all body cam video and other footage captured by partygoers.
The administrative review concluded that the deployments of pepper spray fell within UMPD use of force guidelines. However, the review concluded that the manner of deployment during the second spray did not meet UMPD standards. Even in instances when the deployment of pepper spray to disperse a crowd is considered reasonable, it still must be applied correctly.
A separate, criminal investigation determined the original 911 call to be a false call. The false call for a potential fight involving a weapon, made in retaliation because the individuals were denied entry to the party, bears significant responsibility for subsequent events. Therefore, UMPD has obtained a criminal summons against the individuals who made the false call.
While the administrative review focused on the deployment of the pepper spray, we are able to draw several additional lessons from the report and from the review of the body cam video.
As it is the responsibility of all UMPD police officers to protect and serve our community, we must exhibit exemplary judgement to deescalate difficult situations. Throughout the May 21 incident, we should have handled the situation with more diplomacy. It is my opinion that the subsequent deployment of pepper spray could have been avoided. This did not have to happen.
Furthermore, even in instances when the deployment of pepper spray is considered reasonable, it must be applied correctly. In the May 21 incident, the second deployment was determined to not meet our standards.
Our mission is to serve the university community, protect life and property, and to enforce the law. To be successful in that mission, we must be committed partners with all members of our community – and that includes holding our entire department to very high standards of conduct and accountability. For overall conduct unbecoming an officer, including the incorrect use of pepper spray in the second deployment, I have ordered a sanction of two weeks suspension without pay against one of our officers.
This incident has created distress and anguish among the students affected and within our broader community. UMPD is committed to equity and fairness in all of our interactions with our diverse community. We will continue to work diligently toward this end, and, therefore, I have ordered training in areas of implicit bias and diversity for every officer in the department.
Additionally, I have initiated a comprehensive review of our use of force guidelines, to ensure that every officer understands the protocol for appropriate and correct use of pepper spray. I will ask the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Judge Alexander Williams, Jr., Executive Director of UMD’s Williams Center for Education, Justice and Ethics, and other members of the campus community, including students, to assist us in this policy review.
We are addressing these issues because we recognize that the trust of our campus community—particularly our African-American community – is an integral part to our collective success.
Every day, UMPD officers come to work to serve and protect our community. We all wear the uniform proudly through situations both rewarding and challenging. We remain committed to the highest level of professional standards at all times. Together with our campus community, we will continue to uphold and strengthen our mission of service.
Chief David B. Mitchell
Director of Public Safety
Chief of Police