Judicial Watch, the conservative group that uses FOIA requests and the power of litigation to unearth government documents in the public interest, is asking a judge in Montgomery County, Maryland to release any and all body camera footage that was recorded by officers who shot and killed 23-year old Duncan Lemp on March 12th while serving a no-knock warrant on the Lemp family’s home.
Lemp’s family has maintained from the time of the shooting that the young man was asleep in his bedroom when officers opened fire from outside the home, but the Montgomery County police have described a very different scenario.
The search warrant on March 12, 2020, was served in the early morning hours, consistent with Montgomery County Department of Police practice. The officers entering the residence announced themselves as police and that they were serving a search warrant. Officers gave commands for individuals inside the residence to show their hands and to get on the ground. Upon making contact with Lemp, officers identified themselves as the police and gave him multiple orders to show his hands and comply with the officer’s commands to get on the ground. Lemp refused to comply with the officer’s commands and proceeded towards the interior bedroom door where other officers were located. Upon entrance by officers into Lemp’s bedroom, Lemp was found to be in possession of a rifle and was located directly in front of the interior bedroom entrance door.
During the service of the search warrant a device was discovered affixed to the inside frame of the exterior door leading to Lemp’s bedroom. Montgomery County Fire Marshals responded in order to render the device safe. The device was designed as a “booby trap” intended to detonate a shotgun shell at the direction of anyone entering through the exterior door into Lemp’s bedroom. After officers entered the bedroom, the other occupant of the room warned the officers to be careful of the device rigged to the exterior door. Statements from other occupants of the residence indicated they were aware of the dangerous device on the door.
Further statements from the other occupant in Lemp’s bedroom indicated that he slept with the rifle each night. Contrary to some information reported to the media, the same occupant also indicated that Lemp was out of the bed and standing directly in front of the interior bedroom door at the time the officers made entry into the bedroom.
The family’s attorney says that they’re not aware of any conviction in Lemp’s background that would have prohibited him from lawfully possessing a firearm, and they’ve repeatedly questioned the circumstances surrounding the execution of the warrant.
“He was not a prohibited person,” said Rene Sandler, the attorney for Lemp’s family. “No one in that house was prohibited from owning a gun.”
Three rifles and two pistols were recovered from the house, according to the police. Lemp also posted a picture of a gun on Instagram on March 6, less than a week before the raid. Two months later, though, it’s still not clear what juvenile conviction would have prohibited Lemp from owning a gun.
Lemp’s family and the police also dispute how he was shot. According to the family, Lemp was asleep next to his girlfriend when a police officer shot him. MCPD disputes that story in a vague press release, saying that Lemp was awake, refusing police instructions, and “found to be in possession of a rifle.” But the press release doesn’t describe how Lemp was shot—or how many times—and the officer who shot him has not been named. The Montgomery County Police Department also hasn’t explained why Lemp was considered such a threat that he could only be apprehended with a pre-dawn, no-knock raid.
The Daily Beast‘s summary of the Lemp case quoted above was written back in May, and author Will Sommor said that the family had yet to see the warrant application filed by police, though it was “expected to be released soon.” Five months later, and there’s no indication that the warrant application has yet been made available to the family or the general public.
The body camera footage, if any was recorded, has also yet to be released by the Montgomery County PD, which is why Judicial Watch filed suit back in late July, more than a month after the deadline for MCPD to respond to a FOIA request from the group.
“Given the vastly differing accounts of what happened, the Montgomery County Police Department needs to release all body-cam footage from the SWAT team raid on and shooting of Duncan Lemp,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement Tuesday. “Withholding basic public information about a police shooting undermines public confidence in law enforcement.”
The Howard County Prosecutor’s Office has been leading the investigation into Lemp’s shooting, but they’ve given no indication as to when it will wrap up or its findings made public.
Keep in mind that Lemp was killed the day before Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police in a raid on her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky. Even throughout the investigation by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, far more was known about the circumstances and the aftermath of the Taylor raid than we’ve ever learned about the raid on the Lemp home, and Cameron’s investigation wrapped up weeks ago.
Every case is different, certainly, but this does seem like its taking an unusual amount of time for officials to release some pretty basic details. We’ve seen police departments turn around and release body camera footage in 24 hours or less if they felt it was necessary and in the public interest to do so. Why then have Duncan Lemp’s own family been waiting seven months to find out if any body camera footage was actually recorded?
I don’t hold out much hope that the judge in Montgomery County will order the release of any video materials, but it would certainly be the right thing to do. Duncan Lemp’s case may not have received as much media attention as the death of Breonna Taylor, but it’s at least as troubling, and the public’s interest is just as important in Montgomery County, Maryland as it was in Louisville, Kentucky.