Prince George’s County will pay $20 million to the family of a man shot to death by police while handcuffed in the front seat of a police vehicle.
The settlement in the January death of William Howard Green, 43, was announced Monday by Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.
“To be clear, there is no price that you can put on the life of a son, father, an uncle, a brother. There is no appropriate price tag to accompany a loss like that one,” said Alsobrooks. “But we believe that the actions taken that night against Mr. Green and ultimately taken against his family warrant this settlement.”
Alsobrooks apologized to the Green’s family, a number of whom attended the Monday news conference.
“When we are at fault we take responsibility. In this case, we are accepting responsibility,” she said.
Money from the settlement will come from the county’s budget.
“This is not the way that we want to spend taxpayer dollars, which is why we are doing everything we can to make sure that we are never here again,” said Alsobrooks, referencing an ongoing review of police policies and procedures by a task force she created earlier this year.
Prince George’s County Police Cpl. Michael Owen Jr., the officer accused of shooting Green, was arrested in January on charges of second-degree murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, first-degree assault and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence.
Alsobrooks, the former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney, said investigators determined early in the investigation that there was “no reasonable way and no plausible explanation of how Mr. Green could have attempted to control the gun of Cpl. Michael Owens.”
Steven Platt, a retired Prince George’s County Circuit Court who served as mediator in the case, praised the county and family for working toward a settlement in a case where he said the facts were clear and where there was no arguable defense for the county.
“The facts of this case drove this discussion,” said Platt. “And the facts of this case were uniformly bad. More aggravating in some instances than some of the more high-profile cases that have gone on around the country. The aggravating factors here were too numerous to uphold.”
Billy Murphy, a Baltimore attorney and partner in the firm of Murphy, Falcon & Murphy who represents the Green family, called the result an “historic settlement.”
“In this case, the take away is that the Black life of Mr. Green truly mattered,” said Murphy. “And the Black lives of his mother and two children truly matter because Black lives matter.”
As part of the settlement, Alsobrooks said the county will include the family of William Green in task force meetings that will produce recommendations on reforming police in that county.
“What drove this settlement was the reality that if there had been a trial, the verdict could have been catastrophic, catastrophically high,” said Murphy. “There was nothing that could be done to prevent that or to minimize that because the evidence against (Owen) was so, so terribly strong.”
Murphy, who has represented others in police brutality cases, said reform in Prince George’s County is long overdue.
“The number here represented the heinous nature, the brutal nature, the senseless nature of what happened to Mr. Green. In my 50 years, I have never seen a case this brutal, this senselessly brutal, this depraved and this unjustifiable conduct before,” said Murphy, adding later that had the county gone to court rather the settlement would have been “catastrophic” for the county.
Alsobrooks said the county has made strides to change the culture of its police department.
“This is an undeniable fact, the result that we are discussing here today would not have been possible in the last 50 years,” the county executive said. “What am telling you is that this is a significant departure from how these cases have been handled and I don’t think it should be taken lightly that Corporal Owen was first held accountable by his own. Within 24 hours of this shooting, he was charged by his own.”
A police report from January said the shooting happened after Owen handcuffed Green, of Washington, D.C., behind his back and placed him in his patrol car after responding to a traffic accident and finding him sleeping in his vehicle, apparently under the influence of an unknown substance.
Police initially said there were witness reports of a struggle inside the police cruiser but investigators didn’t find any evidence of a fight between Owen and Green before Green was shot in the front passenger seat.
A prosecutor, Renee Joy, said in January that Green posed “absolutely no threat.” Owen is Black. Police wouldn’t specify Green’s race in January, citing department policy.
Owen was denied bond in January by a judge who said he found convincing evidence that the officer posed a danger to the community. Defense attorney Jonathon Scruggs said in January that Owen is an ordained minister and doesn’t pose a danger.
Green’s death in January occurred months before more highly publicized national cases of African Americans who dies as the result of police actions including George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.
Floyd’s death sparked a series of national protests and calls for reform.
A number of Maryland counties, including Prince George’s, are undergoing efforts to improve law enforcement efforts.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said they will press for statewide changes, including new policies on use of force and the possible elimination of the state’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)