TAKOMA PARK, Md. — One Montgomery County leader said he is troubled by the report of a double-fatal shooting involving a Pentagon police officer in Takoma Park Wednesday.
According to Takoma Park Police, an off-duty Pentagon Force Protection Agency officer shot and killed two men with his service weapon in a condominium parking lot after he thought he saw them breaking into a car.
The incident happened around 5 am at the Takoma Overlook Condominiums on the 7300 block of New Hampshire Avenue. Authorities identified the two deceased victims Thursday as Dominique Williams, 32, of Hyattsville and James Johnson, 38, of District Heights.
The Pentagon officer has yet to be identified.
On Thursday, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said in a press conference that he has been briefed on the incident but has yet to receive a lot of information as to what transpired.
“This is really, really troubling,” Elrich said. “You can't shoot people for property crimes. You can't do that. And, so it's really disturbing. I mean, if people were trying to break into a car and they try to get away, you can't shoot them.”
Elrich said he also has questions as to why the officer acted in the manner that he did.
“The idea that he drew his gun, as opposed to picking up his cell phone and calling the police, which would have been a more appropriate response, is troubling.”
David P. Weber teaches accounting and law as an Assistant Professor at Salisbury University. He also serves as an attorney. He said Maryland law is clear when it comes to what one can and cannot do while defending one's property.
“Maryland is a state that does allow the use of defensive force to protect one's property,” Weber said. “But it does not allow the use of deadly force to protect property.”
He adds Maryland has a pattern of jury instruction where it specifically tells jurors during use of force cases that a person may not use deadly force to defend his or her property.
“Even the threat to use deadly force, without using it would be too far,” Weber said. “So, for example, you should not be drawing a weapon in order to terminate the threat of the theft of property.”
The Department of Defense did say Wednesday that off-duty Pentagon officers have been allowed to take their service weapons home since 9/11. Still, Weber says those officers should not expect to receive any special treatment regarding what they legally can and cannot do in Maryland.
“He does not have, off-duty, any additional rights that any other private citizen would not have,” he said.
There are still many unanswered questions in the case. Weber points out if the Pentagon officer did feel his life was being threatened, a different legal case could be made in his defense.
“If they were in the vehicle that they were stealing and he was feeling in fear of his life that they were going to run him over in the vehicle, that potentially could be a justified use of force,” he said.
But Weber said most police departments advise officers against shooting toward a moving vehicle.
Also, Weber points out in Maryland, a threatened person has a legal duty to retreat.
“Once it gets to the level of deadly force, you can't deploy deadly force without trying to retreat if it's reasonable first," he said.
The Takoma Park Police Department has yet to conduct any interviews regarding the case.
It did, however, release a short statement Wednesday.
“We understand that there is tremendous public interest in this case,” the department’s statement read. “We ask that the public remain patient as we fully investigate this incident. We continue to work closely with the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office to review and investigate this case.”
The Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office did not release any new information regarding the case Thursday. A Department of Defense spokesperson said the Pentagon officer on administrative leave pending an investigation.
This is the second time an off-duty Pentagon Force Protection Agency has shot someone in the DC region in less than a month’s time.
On March 25, an off-duty Pentagon officer shot a 16-year-old boy after he allegedly tried to rob the officer with a BB gun in Southeast, D.C.
DC Police said the teen was charged with assault with intent to commit robbery while armed.